A few months back, I got a page from the service counter that an old friend was here to see me. He wouldn’t give his name, but he told the service advisor that I would remember him. I walked over to the service counter and it was Richie, an old friend from the Bronx. Although I had not seen him in 40 years, I recognized him immediately. We worked together in the early 1970s pumping gas. We both went into business, he started a contracting company, and I followed my passion and became an automotive shop owner. Our paths did not cross until this day. After a few rounds of hugs and catching up, he ask if we could go to lunch. I said, “Sure.”
At lunch, Richie revealed to me that the past few years have not been good. And while he did do very well for many years, he was recently having a hard time managing his employees to a point where the stress was too much to bear. He devoted his life to his business, but now he felt like he was losing control. Then he said to me, “Joe, it’s lonely at the top.”
I asked him why the thinks that. He replied, “Let me give you an example. The other day I went to a job site and I got frustrated with my workers. They have no motivation. And they look angry all the time. I finally said to them, ‘What gives, what’s wrong?’ Do you know what one guy had the nerve to tell me, Joe?” I said, “No, tell me.” Richie continued, “One guy told me that I never smile, that I always look for what’s going wrong and I never say thank you. Do you know what I told him? I give you a paycheck every week. Isn’t that thanks enough? And Joe, who thanks me? I’m the boss.” At this point, my mind was racing with things to say, but after not seeing for him for 40 years, I opted to nod and console him.
It’s a myth to think it’s lonely at the top. If it is, something is wrong. Being the boss or shop owner does not mean that you work in isolation from your employees. Sure, there are specific roles for you and for each employee, and there needs to be respect for your position. But to think that you need to rule over your kingdom following some hierarchal law is not only foolish, it’s also damaging to your business.
The best-run businesses are those that have the best teams and the best leaders. And it always starts with the leader. My old friend Richie doesn’t realize that the issues he is dealing with are the result of his poor leadership. And it really doesn’t matter what business you’re in. If you are in a position of leadership, it is up to you to manage the people around you with encouragement, praise and yes, you need to thank them.
Another thing about managing people: If you are frustrated with your employees and you can’t get them motivated; you either have the wrong people or the problem is in your leadership skills. People will respond and react to the tone you set. Walk around miserable, and your team will be miserable. Walk around with passion, encouragement and a willingness to understand things through the eyes of your employees, and you will have a winning team.
Shop owners often look for that magic bullet. And for the most part, there aren’t any. But if there is one thing that comes close, it’s this: I have learned through the years that in order to reach the level of success you want and if you really want to enjoy your business and your life, you need to have a great team of people around you all pulling in the same direction.
The next time you’re in the shop, make sure you are looking for reasons to praise, to encourage and to say thank you. Oh, if you’re looking for an employee to say thanks, you might be waiting a long time. You are the leader; your fulfillment will come with improved morale, increased production and less stress all around.
If you’re wondering about Richie, he calls me from time to time still complaining, and blaming the world around him for all what’s wrong with his business. Will he ever get it? Not sure. He’s not in the auto repair business, so I don’t think he’ll ever read this article. I think I’ll send him a copy. The question is: Do you think he’ll say thank you?