The Leadership Test
Steve Werner has worked at the same company for three decades, starting at an entry-level position and reaching the top of the organization over that time.
“I started vacuuming cars 30 years ago,” he says. “I was passionate about what I did and applied myself fully. And I think I showed grit and perseverance at a young age, which is key to being successful in any role.”
Werner’s superiors took note of his talents, and Werner moved up in the ranks. He jokes that perseverance and grit alone don’t mean you’re a good leader. Whether he knew it at the time or not, his leadership training began and gave him lessons for life.
“Luckily for me, leadership is a skill that can be learned over time,” he says. “So early on, I had some very good role models who I learned from and helped me shape my leadership style, even today.”
Today, Werner is the CEO of Team Car Care, the largest franchisee of Jiffy Lube service centers in the country with more than 500 locations. He says that he got there through the help of strong professional mentors who taught him servant leadership. And over time, he learned the discipline of setting up an organization for successful change and development.
Leading through periods of change is a central test of leadership. In organizations big or small, leaders have to do more than just “be the change.” They must set a framework for success that touches every level of the organization. The lessons learned in periods of change go on to serve leaders at any time—strong communication, thoughtful planning, and responsiveness are keys.
This month, take a look at the leadership styles of change, as well as how leaders of large and small quick lube businesses set the bar for success.
Growing Into the Role
Mark Daleiden’s parents built and ran the local car wash in St. Michael, Minn., back before there was a quick lube next door. When the quick lube was eventually built, it was under separate ownership.
Daleiden pursued his own fruitful career as a project manager for a chemical company. Then an opportunity arose.
“In 2006, the quick lube came up for sale,” he says. “And I always loved working with cars.”
Daleiden’s parents were closing in on retirement, so he decided to purchase the car wash and quick lube businesses and run them together. While he says he has less free time now than he used to, getting into the automotive sector aligned with his love of cars.
He has owned and operated the business, STMA Auto Center, ever since. That includes a two-bay quick lube shop with an additional bay for light repair, as well as the neighboring car wash.
Daleiden’s work as a project manager provided a good skills base to manage the shop, but it was his first time owning a business. That came with struggles to get up to speed and develop a leadership style while running logistics.
“It was kind of a struggle at first,” he says. “It took a while to start turning a profit, and it had been neglected.”
One of his biggest challenges was to retain a quality team in a small town northwest of Minneapolis. Like Werner, Daleiden was going through a period of change at his business and adapting this leadership style to find solutions.
Being aware while you’re in that learning process is crucial to success, according to Barbara Trautlein, trainer, author, and founder of Change Catalysts. Trautlein is an expert in developing leaders to identify their style, improve shortfalls and manage change in productive ways.
“Once you're aware of what your people need from you as a leader, you can adapt,” Trautlein says. “And your people too. Once your people know more about you as a leader, you are demonstrating that growth mindset and that openness to feedback.”
Identifying Leadership Styles
Handling change can be the most difficult part of leadership.
“What I've noticed time and time again is that leaders who are successful in other aspects of their roles still struggle to lead change,” Trautlein says. “And I really wondered why that was.”
Change tests the communication and planning skills of leaders. It can also be met with pushback, depending on the situation. As any business leader knows, change can be a painful process.
Trautlein developed a system that she calls Change Intelligence. It revolves around three strength areas that leaders can use to identify strengths and shore up weaknesses. They are the head, the heart, and the hands.
Many leaders are strong in the “head” department. That means that they’re thinking about broad strategy, with an eye on the goals at the end of a period of change.
The “heart” is a strength in personal connections. Those leaders can appeal to the needs of team members and get buy-in for change initiatives.
The third strength is the “hands,” and Trautlein says that’s a strength in the physical process and details. These leaders know, logistically, all the steps that need to happen in order to implement change.
Leaders can use this system in a few ways. One is to identify strengths, but another is to spot weaknesses. Trautlein says leaders display varying amounts of each strength area. It’s a spectrum, and it’s a tool to become more well-rounded.
“Looking at how you are as a leader—what is your style? Where do you come from? It’s as important as what you are trying to achieve,” Trautlein says.
As Daleiden looked to grow his business and retain key employees, he adopted a leadership style that is strong in the heart and hands elements. As a small business, Daleiden is in the shop each day, working on the details with his staff. He knows the processes and how change will affect them. And his personality provided the patience he needed to appeal to his team and lead them through change.
“I use humor. I don’t really jump to conclusions. Everybody makes mistakes,” he says. “We forgive, but when they start making multiple mistakes, then we’ve got to have a conversation. But I've got really good employees who see what needs to be done and they do it.”
As Werner reflects on his leadership lessons as he moved up through management roles at his Jiffy Lube franchise, he says that he has sought to become well-rounded in a way that aligns with Trautlein’s head, heart, and hands principles.
In practice, that means that it wasn’t enough to conceive of a change initiative and communicate it. Real success involves helping team members understand the change—appealing to the heart—and focusing on the execution details—the hands.
“It’s really important to ensure that we’re creating an awareness and desire for change at the beginning of a project, not waiting until we’re about ready to roll it out to start communicating,” Werner says.
Responding to Pushback
Leadership during change can be a tough process because operators need to manage and respond to pushback. Change can be painful, and there’s no way around it.
One idea that Trautlein teaches is that resistance from your ranks isn’t always reason to abandon the plan.
“What happens I think is a couple different dynamics,” she says. “One is that leaders can assume that if they get resistance that they’re doing something wrong. In fact, the opportunity for leaders is to expect resistance, because it’s normal and natural. And then reframe it from enemy to ally.”
Leaders can use the head, heart, hands dynamic to respond to team feedback and hone their leadership style. If your change strategy lacks the head element, then it will lack direction. Trautlein once worked with an executive director at a nonprofit who was very focused on the process details of change, and that focus left out the big picture.
“They were really looking toward the executive director to step up and provide direction,” Trautlein says, “but his style was about coming together and diving into the data to realize where we need to go.”
Alternatively, if you receive feedback that your change is overly broad, careless, or doesn’t appeal to the heart, then it’s a sign that you need to relate to how your team is feeling and highlight the improvements that they might see from the change.
Third, a change strategy that lacks strength in the hands element will overlook those process details needed to reach the goal. It’s like if your shop adopts a new service but your POS system isn’t able to process that service. Those details need to be addressed.
What Werner has found is that clarity in communication and responsiveness to his team are the keys to implementing change. And those traits have served him well with leadership projects, big and small.
“It’s easier to just say here’s the strategy and go implement and execute,” he says. “But it’s more difficult to take the time to listen, I think, more than you speak. Just ask the right questions and you’ll find those nuggets, the good insights, that help you make the right decisions.”
Displaying Servant Leadership
When Werner talks about the lessons he learned from role models, and the respect and attentiveness they showed, he’s explaining the servant leadership values that he follows.
One simple way he explains it is to think about the traditional organizational hierarchy. The pyramid has the CEO at the top and subordinates branching out below. Werner says that the old-school way of thinking says that those below on the pyramid should be responsive while the person at the top holds the responsibility.
Werner says that servant leadership is turning around that dynamic.
“Servant leadership is really about flipping that upside down and understanding that those entrusted to my care are actually the ones responsible and I need to be responsive to their needs to allow them to succeed,” he says.
That idea resonates to Daleiden. To help with employee retention, he had to be responsive to his employees’ needs. That level of servant leadership became clearer when he became a public servant himself.
In 2012, Daleiden was elected to his first term as a Wright County Commissioner, and he’s been reelected in every election since. As he started working with the county, he saw a similar retention issue going on in government, especially among people in technology positions who were leaving Wright County for better paying positions elsewhere.
“It's a little different for a private business. I can give somebody a raise,” Daleiden says. “At the county, when they want to leave and get a job somewhere else, our hands are tied.”
Codified pay structures in the public sector didn’t allow for the latitude for the county to offer better pay to boost retention. But as a responsive leader, he saw the importance of these benefits for retention at his shop, where he did have the ability to make the change.
“If I'm going to keep good employees, I'm going to have to figure out how to do that,” he says. “People need health insurance and a retirement fund.”
Daleiden has four full-time employees and several part-time employees. He boosted the base pay to make the positions more attractive, and he says that he added pension and medical plas for full-timers. There are also periodic bonuses based on company performance.
Those appeals to the personal needs of team members are part of leading with a strong heart element, to draw upon Trautlein’s system. It tells employees that the leader of a company has their quality of life in mind and will take action to make improvements. That is, as Werner would say, a level of responsiveness that leads to success.
In Trautlein’s view, responsiveness is a core tenet of leadership, whether it’s during a period of change or an everyday leadership scenario.
“The more that people feel safe and there’s an environment and openness to hear this feedback, the more successful everybody is going to be,” she says.
Becoming a Well-Rounded Leader
Periods of executed change are the test of leadership. The rest of the time is spent using the skills you’ve learned during those tests.
In Trautlein’s three-point system of head, heart, and hands leadership, the end goal is to become more well-rounded in your approach. For Werner, that lesson was that success comes from execution, not just ideas.
“I think in my role as well it's really important to remind myself that it’s the plodders, not the plotters, who get things done,” he says.
He means that while leaders might be great idea generators (or have one on their team), it’s the way that teams move—step by step—toward a shared goal that makes success.
For Daleiden and his smaller operation, a big part was setting up his employees to have a good work-life balance and meet their own financial goals. Along the way, he set his own example for hard work.
“If you're not willing to work long hours, don’t get in the business,” he says. “And you’ve got to take care of your employees. If you don’t, then you’re going to have turnover.”
In Werner’s role, overseeing a larger network of shops, that formula isn’t drastically different. The responsiveness component that he describes is at the heart of leadership, especially in times of change. The way to get your team to work on company goals is to work with them to make it happen.
“If you truly care about your people, if you invest in them, if you recognize them and remove obstacles that are in their way and create that clarity and create systems and processes that allow them to succeed, I don't think it’s overly complicated,” he says.