From Turning Wrenches to Turning Pages

June 23, 2022

As a shop owner, you get to set the tempo for creating a culture centered on personal and professional development. Learn how reading books as a shop helps cultivate leaders from within and brings your team closer together.

Aaron Woods started Extra Mile Auto Care at the end of 2018, taking aim at something he believes is lacking in the automotive industry. 

Woods says a lot of shop owners focus on problems: parts are increasingly difficult to come by, inflation is on the rise, and there’s a lasting technician shortage. But Woods never wanted that to be his focus at Extra Mile Auto Care. 

His saying? 

“We’re not here to hire people, we’re here to develop leaders.” 

“Because this industry, I feel like, has been a bit behind the times … So many mechanic shops are viewed as dirty and dingy and rip-offs, and things like that,” he says. “And so, we need to install good leadership into this industry, and I think we as shop owners owe it to our people to develop them as leaders.” 

While problems like technician shortages persist, there’s often a lack of avenues in which to grow leaders—a much-less discussed issue. But how does a shop develop leaders? 

Mike Davidson, owner of Parkway Automotive, would say that starts with building a team of readers. “Leaders are readers” is his saying, and his heart within the automotive industry has been to develop leaders. He’s a member of the John Maxwell team, where he teaches 15-week courses focusing on personal growth and development and providing a growth environment for all levels of experience within the automotive industry. 

But within the context of a shop, how does one build a team of readers in order to build a team of leaders? Davidson and Woods have both keyed in on this as their focus within their respective shops, and while it may seem daunting at first, they both believe it might be a little easier than you’d think. 

It Starts at the Top

Woods runs a weekly company book club, where he and his staff read books centered on leadership. They take each book a chapter at a time, and then discuss it in a group setting. 

Woods got the idea for a book club after he had done one previously with a shop owners’ group he was a part of, and he felt that experience was beneficial to him. Woods decided to take the leap and start a book club at his shop as well. 

For other shops looking to start a book club of their own, he recommends broaching the idea to your shop’s leadership team, if it has one, to gauge interest in the idea. 

Similarly, Davidson says building a team of readers starts with the shop owner or leader of the organization. He says people will be what they see, so if they see a dedicated owner who reads regularly to develop themselves as a leader, that will rub off on employees. 

“Personal growth happens as a result of the books you read and the people you’re hanging around,” Davidson says. 

Create a Growth Environment

Much of Davidson’s focus is placed on creating a growth environment at Parkway Automotive. It’s something that’s increasingly important for him because after his 35-plus years in the industry—25 as a shop owner—he’s developed a succession plan in which one of his employees will become a co-owner of the company over the next several years. 

Davidson believes that creating a growth environment relates to the company’s culture and what it’s trying to be. Owners need to establish a culture which values and nurtures personal growth in its employees—something that should be intertwined in everything that company does, creating an environment that values and encourages building a team of readers, and leaders. 

“People in the organization need to understand the value of reading, and people do what they value,” Davidson says. “And so how do we create the value of personal growth within the organization?” 

Creating that value of personal growth again goes back to the shop owner or leader of the organization. If the leader values personal growth, employees will follow. When that value is established within the company, it’ll be a part of everything that the company does. 

Or as Woods says, “If you grow as a person individually, you grow as a professional as well.” 

People Want to Learn

As Woods spent time within his shop owners’ group reading, studying, and focusing on personal growth, he quickly realized it was of benefit to him, and he felt like it was their job as leaders to grow leaders. So, he took that idea and ran with it.

Woods went to his staff at Extra Mile Auto Care and asked if they’d be interested in doing a shop-wide book club. 

The most common response? A resounding “absolutely.” 

Woods didn’t need to shove the book club down his staff’s throats—they all wanted to learn. Since it’s started, Woods has seen great participation, which has led to great discussions each week—and even more. It hasn’t just been a way to push his employees toward growth, it’s rubbed off into their work. 

“I really [feel] like it’s helped us grow as a shop. It’s internal growth—we’re not there to talk shop—we’re here to grow internally with our leadership,” Woods says, “but that has spilled over into the shop.” 

That’s come in the form of addressing even simple day-to-day issues within the shop—with the very things they’ve learned in their book club. 

It’s been a similar experience for Davidson at Parkway Automotive. He’s found that building a team of leaders has directly correlated to problem-solving. As more and more employees develop into leaders and continue working on personal growth and development, the better the company is for it. 

“Every company wants to grow. I don’t know of a company out there that says, ‘Hey, I don’t want to grow.’ Right?” Davidson says. “Everybody wants to grow. Growth only occurs through the people that work there. It doesn’t happen organically and every company is only as strong as its weakest.” 

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