Finding a list of top leadership qualities is rather simple – a good listener, a team player, inspire others, and so on. But what makes a great leader in the dealership? Connecting with staff and managing time effectively are crucial aspects, but the auto industry – particularly the retail environment – is a different space than any corporate office, consumer retail store or nonprofit organization. Managing the chaos that comes with upset customers, poor performing sales members or units that sustain damage takes more than just communication and delegation. Here, we explore some of the traits found in effective leaders of a dealership or any other business enterprise.

4 Traits of Effective Leadership in the Dealership

There’s more to an efficient and profitable auto dealership than selling cars and servicing them. Top retailers understand that it’s not about the vehicles, it’s about the customers. Quality leaders do more than just manage day to day activities and meet sales numbers. They focus on serving both external and internal customers equally, but on an individual basis. Meeting the needs and wants of a car buyer often means meeting the needs and (some of) the wants of a salesperson. Learn these 4 traits and use them to better manage and lead your dealer operations.

  1. Lead by Example

Influential leaders earn respect by respecting others and doing what is right. This goes beyond the sales staff, to include the service drive team, office personnel and additional managers up to the dealer principal. Good leaders strive to inspire and influence staff by setting a good example, as people trust and respect those who tell it like it is and not only follow the rules but continuously improve upon them.

Evaluate how customers are greeted and dissect last quarters numbers to see if the practices you’ve been using could use some adjustment to improve the process or increase understanding to get better results.

  1. Be Honest

Transparency in the digital age is paramount, as consumers can shop and research vehicles online with ease and see what others are paying for the automobile they’re considering. This goes beyond car sales, as online retail sales continue to grow, offering shoppers multiple avenues to research and save. Leaders must be able to communicate effectively and be honest in every step of the sale with customers, and in their actions with employees.

Honesty is about accountability and being upfront with your team. Don’t hide behind a soft approach when facing an unfavorable truth. Being direct and fair will allow for better sales conversions and more engaging discussions about what team members can expect going forward.

  1. Clarity of Purpose

Good leaders strive to make sure everyone knows what is going on around them. In his interview for Car Biz Today Magazine, legendary coach and dealer principal Nick Saban explains how leaders must set the stage for success by having clear expectations of acceptable performance standards and work with staff to meet them. 

Don’t simply hold sales meetings to recite sales numbers. Have weekly team coaching instead, where important matters are discussed – like an upcoming customer appreciation cookout. Then make time to meet one on one with team members to build relationships and trust by talking about their personal motivators. Topics like time with family, sales goals for the quarter or desires for professional growth put leaders and personnel on the same page and allows for better communication and game planning.

  1. Stand up for Your Staff

All too often at dealerships those team members that perform well receive credit in quick fashion, maybe as a cash bonus or seeing their name on an employee of the month board. But true leaders give more than just a “way to go” for their staff to show true appreciation of good deeds, they also offer support and coaching for salespeople responsible for errant actions.

When one does right, stand tall and acknowledge them with staff presents so everyone can share in the success and have a clear example to follow. When someone is wrong or making bad decisions, pull them aside and discuss it to make sure they know why their choices or actions are counterproductive or unacceptable. And talk about the consequences for the behavior and offer ways for them to improve. Keep in mind, sales member have different skill sets and temperaments, so address them accordingly as a leader who’s concerned about their well being and performance.

Another aspect found in dealerships (and numerous businesses enterprises too) isn’t a trait, but more a practice of finding new management by promoting from within. Managing is more about overseeing duties and projects, where leadership is the process of developing people.

RainmakerThinking founder and CEO Bruce Tulgan notes how automotive retailers often promote superior sales personnel to management but, “nobody ever teaches them how to do the people work.” He goes on to share that, “you don’t put anyone in charge of anyone without teaching them the basics of leadership.” Good leaders invest in others to cultivate leadership qualities and help prepare them for their next level of success.

Leadership Takeaways

Quality dealership leaders arrive early, complement publicly and admonish privately. Be truthful and respectful with staff and clients so they use you as the proper example to emulate. Begin incorporating these 4 traits into your leadership profile and practice them over time to measure how effective you and your dealership can become.

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