Bennett: Climbing New Heights: Going from Employee to Manager and Beyond

July 20, 2023
Transitioning into management involves learning to lead people in a different way.

Imagine you're standing at the bottom of a mountain that you know well. The top of the mountain is hidden in the clouds. As someone who has worked for a while, you've already learned a lot and become skilled at what you do. Now, you have a big opportunity—to become a leader and reach the peak. This won't be an easy change. It's a journey that will transform you, requiring new skills, a different way of thinking, and new responsibilities. 

Being a leader means more than just doing more of what you did before. It's about having a bigger vision and working with others to achieve success together. It requires a different mindset and set of skills. The journey may seem scary but also exciting. You will have to step away from your regular tasks and focus on making plans, making decisions, and leading a team. It's not just about working "in" the business anymore, but also working "on" it. 

Just like a climber needs the right tools for a successful climb, moving from being an employee to a leader requires a set of important skills, strategies and knowledge. These are not physical tools but things that will guide you on your journey. Think of this article as your personal kit for climbing, with practical advice and strategies that have been tested and proven to help you become a successful leader. Whether you're transitioning from being a technician to owning a shop or from being a salesperson to a manager, these principles will give you the confidence and preparation you need to move from being an individual contributor to a leader. 

The first step is to understand what this transition means. When you become a manager or owner, your job is no longer just about fixing cars or selling services. It's about running a business and leading a team. This change will be challenging because it will affect your daily tasks, how you interact with your team, where you focus your attention, and how you think about your role and the day ahead. 

Here are some actions you can take: 

Practice delegation: Start by giving your team non-critical tasks that don't require your expertise, like managing inventory or scheduling. Remember that you hired them because they are capable, so trust them to do their jobs. You can use software tools to help delegate and keep track of tasks more effectively. 

Manage your time strategically: Set aside specific time for planning, strategizing, and developing your staff. This will help you be proactive instead of reactive. Dedicate time each week to focus on leadership opportunities, interactions with employees, analyzing how things are running, staying updated on industry trends, planning for future needs and evaluating the overall health of your business. Regularly checking in on the state of your business is important for long-term success. 

Seek guidance: Join local business associations or online communities where you can connect with successful shop owners or managers who can mentor you in your new role. They can give you insights into handling business responsibilities and share their experiences with you. 

Becoming a leader can change your relationships with your colleagues, especially if you're now managing people who used to be your peers. You're no longer just "one of the team." You're responsible for making tough decisions, solving conflicts, and ensuring that the team achieves its goals. Handling this shift well is crucial for maintaining a positive and productive work environment. 

Here are some actions you can take: 

Communicate openly: Talk to your team about the changes in dynamics and how you plan to manage them. Make it clear that even though your role has changed, you're still part of the team. Let them know that you're open to their suggestions and concerns. 

Set boundaries: Keeping professional and personal relationships separate is essential for a leader. Avoid letting personal biases impact professional decisions. If necessary, redefine the context of your relationship with your team. Treat all employees fairly and avoid favoritism at all costs. 

Lead by example: Show passion and commit to the shop's success and your team's well-being through your actions. Ensure that "the audio matches the video"; always follow through with what you say you will do. This might be: Consistently upholding safety standards, displaying a strong work ethic and respecting everyone on your team. Show what good looks like through your commitment, work ethic, and attitude. Be the model of dedication and professionalism, encouraging your team to mirror your passion. 

Never Stop Developing New Skills 

As a leader, you must develop new skills beyond your technical expertise. These include strategic thinking, effective communication, delegation, conflict resolution, goal setting, motivation and emotional intelligence. 

Specifically, invest in:  

Learning: Many organizations offer leadership training programs, both online and in-person. Take advantage of the resources of automotive industry associations, business groups, or community colleges. Utilize resources like books, online courses, podcasts and workshops to grow your leadership and management skills. Look for materials that specifically cater to leadership and business. I suggest two favorites: "The One Minute Manager" by Kenneth Blanchard and "Leaders Eat Last" by Simon Sinek. 

Finding a mentor: Seek out mentors and peers with experience in the field who can provide valuable advice, experience, and guidance. If there's someone you admire in the industry, don't be afraid to connect with them and ask for advice. They had the same opportunities and challenges when beginning their careers. Learn to lean on those you trust or who inspire you. 

Receiving Solicit Feedback: Encourage your team to give feedback on your leadership style. Use these insights to identify your areas of improvement. Regularly ask your team for feedback and show appreciation for their input. Feedback helps you improve as a leader and makes your team feel valued. 

The journey from employee to management and beyond is demanding—full of challenges, moments of self-doubt, and tests of endurance. However, like topping a difficult peak, the leadership/management journey offers exceptional growth, unparalleled vistas, and the satisfaction of leading the charge. As you tread this path, remember that every mountaineer started as a novice climber, and every leader as a team member.  

Staying receptive to feedback, demonstrating patience with your learning curve, and committing to continual growth aren't just suggestions—they're the compass guiding your professional ascent. They're the lifelines that ensure you don't lose your way. Like any journey worth undertaking, there will be obstacles and lessons to learn. But the view from the summit—the sight of a team unified under your leadership, a business thriving under your direction—will be worth the climb. 

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett has more than three decades in the Independent Auto Repair industry. Mike has been an ASE Master Technician and is the owner of Mike’s KARS Inc. in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Fully immersed in the industry for his entire professional career as a master technician, shop foreman, general manager, and automotive shop owner, Mike has a unique and broad perspective on the shop owner experience. Mike is able to communicate with real-world experience and a “been there and done that” perspective. As an Alumni shop owner with the Automotive Training Institute, he continues to operate his shop with his wife Shelle. Mike is now a nationally certified executive trainer and he has spent the last 11 years as a full-time business coach with ATI as well as leading two of ATI’s premier shop owner 20 groups as well as the first-in-industry CEO/COO development program.

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