Today’s Superstars, Tomorrow’s Leaders

June 7, 2021
This is what employees need to take them from good to great.

How do managers and shop owners find leaders among their staff? 

NOLN spoke with shop owner Lawrence Campbell of East Coast Lube in Pooler, Ga., as well as certified speaking professional and master certified coach Patrick Donadio of Columbus, Ohio, to answer some fundamental questions about leaders and what it takes to keep them.

How can you spot a superstar?

What distinguishes a good employee from a great one? How do you know if you’ve found a technician who has the potential to be a shop manager? It comes down to more than technical skill. Donadio identified several professional and interpersonal skills that superstars have, especially those with leadership potential.  

“Don’t just look at performance,” Donadio says, “but try to see potential. It’s about finding people that are engaging.”

Campbell agrees that a team leader is more than just a technician. 

“You’re never going to find all the perfect qualities in a single person,” he says, “but if you have a majority of them, you’re headed in the right direction.”

The traits Campbell and Donadio identify as integral to potential leaders are accountability, conscientiousness, dependability, principals, and passion. 

Accountability shows the employee’s awareness of their strengths, limitations, and their ability to see the consequences of their actions--especially when they need to give credit to the right person or to apologize.

“A leader answers for their failures, admits mistakes, and takes responsibility,” Donadio says.

Conscientiousness shows that the employee understands their role as an employee, but more importantly, as a person. Their self awareness helps them form strong social ties and navigate difficult situations. 

“You want someone who is emotionally intelligent,” Donadio says. “You’ll see it in [other] employees’ reactions to them, in their personal relationships, that they’re interacting well.”  

Successful leaders have remarkable communication skills and listen well, he says.

A dependable employee is one that shows consistency in their actions and words and displays discipline in how they manage their workload. Campbell says he looks for problem-solvers, who follow a project through to the end. Donadio identifies multitaskers as potential leaders. 

“They have the ability to manage several things at once, who know themselves and can balance their assignments well,” he says.

A principled employee displays values and character even when no one is watching. They do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. 

Finally, a leader is someone who is passionate. Even if their current position is not their dream job, they approach daily tasks with appropriate enthusiasm and curiosity. 

“It’s about finding people that are engaging with the material, with customers,” Donadio says. “They’re forward thinking, solution-oriented employees who ask and act.”

Where do you find a leader?

Shops can disagree on whether it’s better to hire managers from outside of the company or to grow your own manager.  However, both Campbell and Donadio agree that when it’s possible, they prefer to promote from within.

When hiring a manager, Donadio says he recommends that operators start from the inside, since employees already understand the culture and structure. 

“They also understand the strengths and weaknesses of the company and they have the potential to move into the role faster,” he says.

Donadio explains that seeing other employees get promoted often encourages their coworkers to emulate their behavior and reach for a higher position. Campbell adds that the shop environment benefits when employees are promoted from within the company. 

“It’s a comfort factor,” he says. “You work together, create a culture together.  You’ll get more consistency and get more out of employees at every level.”

How do you train a leader? 

Campbell and Donadio have different approaches to training leaders, but they both agree that an employer has to encourage and train their employees—leaders don’t spontaneously materialize.

“Training is not an event, it’s a process,” Donadio says. “To really make lessons stick, train from a process perspective. That includes a Before, During and After component. In general, think of training employees and see how folks are performing, as a progression.”

Donadio has more than 30 years in the field of leadership training. He is an author, a keynote speaker, a Certified Speaking Professional, Master Coach and workshop presenter. He uses a signature multilayered and multimedia approach to leadership training. 

One follow-up method he uses is encouraging employees to teach each other. After presentations or teaching sessions, attendees of his conferences engage in employee breakout sessions where they teach each other what they learned. 

“As the saying goes,” Donadio points out, “teaching is like learning twice.” 

Individual employees may have further coaching sessions to bring their potential as a leader to the next level. 

Campbell’s shop features on-the-job training for its employees. They attend regular manager and company meetings, investigate new vehicle information, observe in-house checks and balances, reviews, and attend training with vendors.

How should leaders be evaluated? 

Both Campbell and Donadio agree that once-yearly employee evaluations are not effective or helpful tools to encourage lasting changes in performance. 

Donadio suggests, at a minimum, “semi-annual reviews when you want to identify and share, ‘Here’s what you can work on if you want to move up in the company.’” He also highly encourages regular feedback to help keep employees engaged. This helps an employer encourage behavior employees have seen and helps them set attainable goals.

When relevant, Donadio says that DiSC profile assessments are often helpful when determining employees’ and leadership’s communication styles. 

The self-administered surveys categorize an individual’s personality into four profiles: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. Understanding where your team members fall on this scale, he says, can help a team improve its coordination and productivity in the workplace. The method is popular with Fortune 500 companies and several government agencies.

Campbell’s shop performs evaluations of strengths and weaknesses about once a quarter or every 90 days. He says he finds it to be particularly helpful to eliminate common errors and break down bad habits, or errors in logic, that may lead to mistakes. It keeps technicians’ sharp and keeps the lines of communication and feedback open.

How can employees demonstrate leadership?

Campbell says he’s passionate about encouraging his employees to demonstrate leadership in everyday tasks. 

“Looking at just the word: leadership,” he says. “The ‘leader’ is the position, and the team is the ‘ship.’” 

Leadership is therefore demonstrated in action and in team building. When employees organize their work area, clean their desk, help their coworkers, and anticipate others’ needs, that all demonstrates leadership.

“Leadership is everybody.” Campbell says. “It’s action, not a position. Everyone in the building has opportunities to be a leader. Everyone can demonstrate leadership by following the example of their leaders. It’s our shop culture. Leaders set things right for the benefit of our business and our customers.”

Donadio agrees, quoting author Mark Sanborn’s book of the same title “You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader.”

“Even if you don’t currently have the capability to promote an employee, you should still foster leadership because everyone can be a leader,” Donadio says. “In the same way rotating jobs improves a team’s skill level and empathy, rotating opportunities for leadership improves a team member's sense of purpose in a shop and within the company.”