Howes: Leadership Lunch: From Good To Great

May 15, 2023
Helping your team take greater ownership by learning and growing together.
"If you delegate tasks, you create followers. 
If you delegate authority, you create leaders." 

A business is only as strong as its weakest link, and unfortunately, that weak link in many businesses is often its employees. It’s simple. The competition for quality employees is very keen right now, and sadly the numbers entering the automotive service profession, especially in the role of technician, seem sadly slim. 

Make no mistake, it’s not just our line of business. Ask your local carpenter, plumber or electrician how difficult it has become to find young folks entering the profession. Consequently, we have an aging workforce, and the few who trickle into the service profession are eagerly sought after. Some stay and become exceptional technicians, but many leave, disillusioned or disappointed. 

Career 

It’s no secret, the concept of hiring and offering not just a “job,” but actually a “career” is key to not only attracting but retaining quality employees. And while we’re at it, let’s start using the term “team member” rather than an employee. It’s a subtle but powerful paradigm shift. The term “employee” implies just a number, a cog in a wheel, whereas “team member” implies a mutual and meaningful contribution, which is what so many of the younger folks are looking for. 

 Starting in late 2021, our workshop really began focusing on growing leaders from within. This helps retain team members, something we as shop owners all want to do, and also provides an attractive culture for recruiting new team members. Today’s employees seem to really appreciate the opportunity to provide input and feedback on many items, and “feeling heard” really helps with engagement and buy-in for new objectives. The leadership focus we started in 2021 continued in various forms and refinements in 2022 with enhanced team meetings and team events, and really accelerated when 2023 rolled around. 

Leadership Lunch 

At the beginning of the new year, we started what has come to be called inside of Atlantic Motorcar, “Leadership Lunch,” held at our second workshop and training center. At its core, our gathering is an opportunity for team members to get out of the shop environment, enjoy lunch away from their desks, and have some social chats with coworkers. 

Beginnings 

When it first started, we thought we’d just keep it front-end people, but it’s now grown and evolved into an open invite for any team member who would like to attend. Our original format was an invite to meet at our training center, have lunch together, watch a video series and discuss urgent topics. The only requirement is that the video or presentation must be something that is relevant to every team member attending, and the length should be 15 minutes or less. Since our focus is empowering each and every team member to be a leader in word, thought and deed, the training has focused on this topic. 

 We began with an app called “Masterclass,” where for a small fee each month there is a series of 10-15 minute videos with a training summary after. So far this year, the team has studied Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator; and Bob Igor, the head of the Walt Disney companies. We’ve also watched some short videos by Jocko Willink, a former Navy Seal, as he speaks about motivation, delegation and leadership. It’s been a wonderful way to bring the front of the house together with the workshop and brainstorm mutual challenges and opportunities. A few years back, our company book club read Willink’s book “Extreme Leadership,” as part of our culture transformation. 

Evolution 

In May, we started a new format. Our new format has evolved away from reliance on produced videos to team members creating and offering their own presentations to the group. Presentations are kept short, 15-20 minutes max, followed by a 15-20 minute discussion time. The discussion leader (we use the term “Day Leader”) rotates each meeting, allowing those who may not be comfortable or used to taking the lead to discover and develop skills and talents. They can use our older format, a useful video series, or ideally, they can produce something entirely on their own to provoke discussion on an urgent topic or special interest. The shop will provide all the A/V training resources at our training center, make copies or handouts as needed and help facilitate the program. 

To help get the word out, we share the upcoming schedule via our internal Slack channel, so all team members have an open invite to stop by, and can see which programs are being offered week to week. And they don’t all have to relate to automotive, our upcoming topics include a presentation on Self Defense of self and others, an offering on the Boy Scouts by a team leader who is a Scout Leader, a topic on Team Building by our GM, and one of our techs has offered to produce a presentation on team morale. 

Your Most Valuable Asset 

The important thing to understand with this culture is that you are setting the candidate up for success, not creating a failure path. You are helping them develop personally and professionally. That’s a rare thing in the business world today, and businesses that focus on developing the “whole person” will not only net out a better team member, but a better husband, father, wife or friend. In other words, it’s about investing in your people, building them up to fully meet the requirements of the job, and then growing beyond. You’ll develop an advocate with the family as well, as your team member grows and develops, and can provide more opportunities for his family. A rising tide lifts all boats. 

Believe me, in the current tempestuous sea of negativity we all live in, people are hungry for this culture! They’re hungry to be valued, to feel like they matter, what they do is important. I don’t think we can stress that enough, we can all improve, I know I can, on sharing gratitude to our team means to us, and our business. People want to hear that, as I said, they are hungry for it. Feed that hunger, share it with the world, and people will seek you out! 

About the Author

Bruce Howes

Bruce J. Howes is the owner and founder of Atlantic Motorcar Services, a multi-location European specialty shop in Wiscasset, Maine. He is a 35-year veteran of shop ownership, with a fondness for process maps, literary quotes, and Ernest Hemingway books.

Bruce also works in emergency medicine as a second career and is a nationally registered Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (A-EMT). He serves as a board member at the Maine Maritime Museum and various local nonprofit organizations.

A strong advocate for continuing education, as well as peer-to-peer coaching, his shop recently established a dedicated in-house training center for technicians and shop owners, and hosts a new technician apprentice program. He can be reached at [email protected].

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