How to Become a Leader People Want to Work For

June 11, 2018
If you want to earn the respect of your dealership’s staff, it’s important to have open lines of communication with all employees.

Pete Kesterson wasn’t always the confident company leader that he is nowadays, as the general manager at Don Beyer Volvo Cars of Falls Church (Va.)

Not that long ago, in fact, Kesterson was a sales manager for the Roland Corporation, crisscrossing the country on ceaseless business trips, helping sell musical instruments. Back then, he was “literally gone, all the time.”

In 2018, Kesterson wants to ensure that none of his dealership employees feel out of place or overwhelmed. He wants them to feel like they can set up stakes, and build a career at Don Beyer Volvo.

“This is a great dealership to do that,” he notes. “It’s a family business, so they treat us like family.”

Kesterson has spent years formulating a leadership strategy that lets employees know that they’re valued by their employer. And it seems to be working; Don Beyer Volvo, which experienced 10.4 percent sales growth in 2017, has 25 employees who have worked for the dealership for no less than a decade, and 13 employees who have worked at the store for 15 years or more.

“Don’t worry about taking care of your customers; worry about taking care of your employees and they’ll want to take care of your customers,” Kesterson says, borrowing a quote from renowned business magnate Richard Branson. “If you get buy-in from employees, they’re going to want to do a good job.”

Kesterson, whose dealership boasts a 94.3 percent CSI score, provides his insight on how to become a leader that’s appreciated and respected by employees.

As told to Kelly Beaton

My philosophy is that you always know where you stand. I’ve read a lot of Robert Maxwell’s books on leadership and marketing. And I’m a big proponent of a book called The One-Minute Manager by Kenneth Blachard, Ph.D. and Spencer Johnson, M.D. The ‘one-minute’ philosophy is praise and reprimand instantly, and then move on. So, I’ll tell you where you did a great job, I’ll tell you where you messed up, and we deal with it, and life goes on, rather than let things linger.

We’re not here to make friends. Growth is our critical thing. But, it’s nice when you have that family-style relationship with employees. I don’t think it’s hard to be liked when you show everybody that there’s nothing you’re not willing to do—you know, it’s not an ivory tower, or, “What I say goes;” I’ve mopped the floor many a time. It needs to get done, so I do it. And I think that generates a bond. I gave employees a goal in December, which we blew away, so I’m taking everybody to Capital Grille next week, which is a nice little bonus. It’s just letting them know we value them.

It’s important to provide a positive work environment. There are a lot of managers that are the “beat-em-up-and-send-’em-back-to-the-customer” type. I see that way too often in the industry, as opposed to someone who’s going to spend the time and train, and nurture. On that note, one of the things we created this year was a new position. Rather than feed a new sales person right to the wolves, we’ve got a new position called the “delivery specialist,” where they learn the product and how to talk to customers. So, next time I’ve got an opening on the sales floor, boom, I’ve got somebody who can hit the floor running.

The shortest distance between two people is communication. So, it’s really just making people want to work with each other and together, and taking care of the customer. Whether it’s my sales team, or my service department, the reality is that no matter what we sell, there’s always something that’s going to sell for a dollar, or $100, less somewhere else. We’re trying to sell the experience here. You know, why do you buy new shoes at Nordstrom instead of DSW? Same shoe, but there’s a big difference in price. But you’re buying the experience, right?

Even as a leader, it’s helpful to find a mentor. Find a manager who you have a similar philosophy to, that you can trust, that can be a mentor. And it may not be at your dealership. You may have to reach beyond your 20 Group, or just find another local leader with which you’re familiar. Just grab lunch once per month, or do something to get some fresh ideas, and some different motivations.