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5 Ideas for Leadership in 2020

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Great leaders aren’t simply born. They aren’t wholly developed over time, either.

The journey to effective leadership is a mixture of those things. You take your innate skills and use them to your advantage as you strive to improve. Always improve. That requires the use of natural ability and determined development.

In the quick automotive service world, the skills of leaders are often geared toward maintenance over management. They started down in the lower bay but ended up overseeing a business.

There are also lots of impressive business owners who are adept at launching franchises but are still learning how to galvanize their people. Leadership is the ability to get employees to buy into your business plan and carry out those goals.

“The unfortunate trend is that there are not enough good leaders and managers in our industry,” says Cecil Bullard, CEO of the Institute for Automotive Business Excellence. “There are a lot of good people, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to being a good manager.”

It takes a lot of work to get there. And when leaders’ time and attention needs to be split among multiple shops or ventures, there needs to be a formal process to fall back on. While more personal communication in 2020 is being conducted digitally, the business space is where real-life interactions are more important and harder to develop.

All leaders are on their own, but the path forward isn’t always clear. So NOLN asked Bullard, whose organization focuses on owner success, to share his blueprint for a leadership plan. Additionally, two high-energy operators share their success stories and what they’re working on for 2020.

Together, these are the five big ideas for leadership in 2020. Let them guide you toward positive change this year.


The Experts

Cecil Bullard has 32 years of experience in the automotive service industry. He’s a trainer for the WorldPac Training Institute and runs his own business, the Institute for Automotive Business Excellence.

He has been a featured speaker at automotive events such as CARS in Las Vegas, VISION in Kansas City and ATE in Washington State and has given hundreds of seminars and webinars to tens of thousands across the country.

Bullard is also a Co-founder of QuickTrac business management software.

Russ Hotchkiss has been a business owner for 20 years and in 2015 moved his whole operation into one location in Iowa. There, he runs an All Tune and Lube shop alongside other businesses: a fire and security service and a power washing solutions business, among other ventures.

Hotchkiss says he was a big participant in sports while growing up. Once he was owning businesses, he realized that he needed to become a coach and not a player. Once he figured out his process, his businesses flourished.

“It took an evolution to do that,” he says. “And six to seven good years of hard knocks.”

Jordan Mosely came up in the family Kwik Kar Lube and Tune and was the company’s general manager for 15 years. Four years ago, he broke away and launched his own brand, America’s Oil Change and Auto Repair.

As he grew that brand into a successful shop, he jumped back into the fold and took over the family Kwik Kar after his father passed away.

Today, Mosley’s company runs three America’s Oil Change locations and three Kwik Kar locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That growth has come with some growing pains, but Mosley is committed to improving his management practices to lead a successful business.


1: Make a Blueprint for Leadership

Bullard says that leadership is a function of two things: vision and motivation.

Most business owners have a vision for their enterprise, but it might be an abstract idea. Simply wanting to become the “best shop in the market” isn’t going to cut it. It has to be clearly laid out.

“This is fundamental,” he says. “I need to spend some time in my office at my desk—not fixing cars, but determining the path. The roadmap. If I want to become that, what do I have to do?”

Part of laying it all out is creating an organization chart. Ensure all the proper roles are filled and that you’re doing what you need to do in order to fulfill the vision. Organize your resources to take action.

“When I create my organizational chart, I also at that point start to define the goals for each position in order for me to get what I need out of my business and the roles for those positions,” he says.

Motivation is the other piece here. It takes a little kick in the pants to get going sometimes. That can sometimes take the form of a metric that gauges success. Perhaps it’s a certain car count or ticket average. Or it could be a specific rate of growth for each.

The metric could be a little less tangible, like customer satisfaction. There are lots of ways to define it, and 100 percent satisfaction is always the goal. But it’s not a realistic expectation. Both ideas can work for your management style. It’s a goal with a real-world success metric built in.

“So my goal for customer satisfaction might be 100 percent when we talk about it, but realistically my measuring is 97 percent or 98 percent,” Bullard says. “And therefore, it’s a realistic target that we can judge ourselves by and we can measure and say that we’ve done that. We’re OK.”


The Lesson: Don’t rely solely on your imagination. Get it down on paper.


2: Democratize the Company Information

Nearly seven years into running his All Tune and Lube shop, Russ Hotchkiss had an epiphany. He was looking for a way to motivate his employees to work toward something greater than just a paycheck.

“Don’t get me wrong, we were doing well up to 2006, but I kept turning people over left and right, and I couldn’t figure out why,” Hotchkiss says. “But they were literally only working for that paycheck. They didn’t realize they were working for a team and trying to help people out and grow the company. And if they got the company to grow, guess what? Their paychecks grew.”

He started having meetings with his employees—all of them, from top to bottom. They worked to clearly define each role in the business. And he got everyone involved in strategizing ways to increase sales and improve customer relations.

The system developed into a formal weekly meeting. And for the employees to know how they can improve the business, Hotckiss believes they need to know where things stand, so he opens up the financials to all.

“I do it through our people. I empower people. We have a weekly meeting. I wouldn't call it a sales meeting; it’s just a staff meeting,” he says. “And we go through everything. And we have open-book accounting here. So they actually get to see the profit and loss, the balance sheet.”

Everyone is at least present, if not involved, for big decisions in the company. And while he’s in one of these meetings three times per week for his various businesses, the strategy has paid off. Hotchkiss says that employee motivation changed for the better since he had that epiphany. Everyone has a better sense of where they fit into the company’s success.

“Once I realized that, that's when things really started taking off,” he says.


The Lesson: Show employees how their roles bring real change to an organization and how they matter. 


3: Have a Communication Culture

Mosley says that his family’s Kwik Kar was the brand’s top performer for about a decade. They had a great process in place for many years.

But it takes some evolution to make sure that process is carried out over multiple shops. This has become increasingly important for Mosley, who ran just one shop four years ago but now owns a half-dozen. That growth has made him step up his game as a leader.

“It’s definitely had some growing pains over three years,” he says. “So I've had to learn to manage my time a lot better. Being more effective in my communication to store managers. Being more detailed with what my expectations are daily.”

Like Hotchkiss, Mosley has had success with his managers by opening up the books and sharing sales figures and goals with them. He says that he’s already seeing sales and car count growth at his shops by setting periodic goals for the managers.

It doesn’t stop at sharing the numbers with managers. While it becomes harder to find time with more shops under command, Mosley makes it a valued priority to be available and open with his employees.

“So their pulse is on the numbers and labor and everything,” he says. “That’s the driver of the business. Strength in numbers, but also if I make a mistake by not staying on top of it for a week or two, then that can wind up costing the company.”

That last part is key to Mosley’s plan for 2020. He’s looking to spend more time with his managers to really work on improvements at each shop. He’s planning bi-weekly one-on-one meetings while keeping daily communication lines open. Consistency is key.

Of course, it shouldn’t all be about sales figures. Leaders know that shop culture reflects the successes as well. Even down to a single well-executed ticket, Mosley says that recognition for a job well done is important.

“Recognizing the small stuff,” he says. “I think, overall, that will translate to a bigger number at the end of the month or end of the year.”


The Lesson: Be the first to advocate for open and honest conversation within your operation.


4: Build a Team

Success at a shop or network of shops isn’t achieved alone. And like leadership development, staff development can be a tough road.

“It’s taken me three years to find these people,” Hotchkiss says. “If you want to find the diamond in the rough, you have to sift through the rough.”

After a few years holding his all-hands meetings, he says that he’s simply a facilitator and observer now. He says the self-sufficiency that developed among his staff allowed him to focus more on his big-picture roles—that is, developing himself as a leader.

That’s what Mosley is working on as he grows his network. Once they landed that sixth location, he says that it became necessary to bring on someone new.

“I recently hired a sales manager slash process trainer,” he says. “Every store will send one person to our training class at one location and we spend half a day with them going over our company standards, who we are, our beliefs. Start with the basic process of the oil change and then kinda work into advanced sales, getting into more automotive sales process.”

Ultimately, every employee will go through the training process. 

With the growth of his company, he says that they’re gaining the ability to attract better talent. They can offer a benefits package and cover absences with resources from another shop.

Finding that tipping point might be different for every business. For Mosley, it was that sixth location. The size of the operation required a new position and provided the resources to take on that expense.

It was training that Mosley was doing himself. Now, as Bullard’s plan suggests, Mosley has updated his organizational chart to give him the freedom to develop as a leader.

“Through growth comes more growing pains, but it’s also a good growth to help ease the burden of everybody else,” he says.


The Lesson: Be patient. If you’re working toward improvement, you’re on the right track.


5: The Management Cycle

At the center of Bullard’s circular cycle is constant communication— the kind that Mosley and Hotchkiss value in their businesses. It’s the key to making sure that everyone is on the path to their goals and that you’re providing the motivation to do so.

The cycle itself is a pathway for leaders to create a way forward and make sure they’re staying on that path. It’s also a way to formalize your business vision. If it’s not written, it doesn’t exist, Bullard says.

Moving clockwise, Bullard says that the first step is agreement. Bring employees to their goal rather than give them success, he says.

Next in the pathway is measurement. It’s the metric that he mentioned at the top of the story, and it’s the way leaders judge progress.

Moving along to strategizing a pathway, Bullard says that there are four elements to consider when drafting this.

“What are we going to do? How do we think we’re going to do it? Who is going to do it, and when is it going to happen?” he says.

Next are the action and the follow-up. The latter is a way to check the work of the action.

“Follow-up is where consequences happen,” he says. “This is where we look at what we did and decide, ‘Did it get us the result we wanted?’ And if it did not get us the result, is it because what we did didn’t work, or we didn’t do it? If we didn’t do it, we go back to agreements and strategies with the employees and, ‘Why haven't you done what you told me you would do?’”

It’s important to have a system like this. Bullard says that some leaders achieve success without such a formal process, but they’re the exception and not the rule.

When it’s so important to retain employees, it’s a huge benefit to have a pathway of success for each of them. Bullard says that his cycle doesn’t discriminate; it’s applicable to anyone.

That’s handy if you’re like Hotchkiss, who has seen great success with the formalization of transparent staff meetings. It’s also helpful for leaders like Mosley, who is growing his business at a rapid pace but wants to keep a successful process in place.

The cycle is there to keep things on track.

“If we have a system and a process in play, then my employee is more likely to be successful than if we wing it,” Bullard says. “Because they're getting the feedback, and they're getting the management that they should to help them succeed.”


The Lesson: In quick maintenance, the process is everything. Shouldn’t there be a similar blueprint for your management style?

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