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5 must-have traits for extraordinary leadership

Great leaders foster a culture of dialog; knowing their team’s ideas and feedback can make the dealership run more smoothly or be more profitable.

It would be a slim minority of dealership personnel who haven’t worked under a manager or owner that did not possess the skills or training to lead. The auto industry quite often promotes from within, offering excellent opportunities for career growth, but that comes at an expense. High-performing salespeople are not always good leaders, and skilled service advisers do not always make good service managers.

Under leaders who aren’t suited for the role or haven’t received any training, the staff under their new purview tend to be less productive, morale suffers, and almost inevitably, you lose good people to your competitors. Management training is fundamentally more important than training a new hire since their team will look to them for guidance and answers. However, there are people who are suited to be leaders, and they possess certain traits that others will never have.

1. They strive to develop themselves

Good managers in dealerships are focused personally on growth and development. You’ll often find them writing notes in the margins of a leadership book they’re skimming between the deals they desk, and in their off-time, they aren’t out drinking with subordinates; they’re investing time in their family, self-care, and taking courses on how to hone their skills. 

Essentially, leaders take responsibility for their development, not expecting or waiting for their superiors to provide it. They’re self-aware and acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, accepting responsibility for and learning from their missteps. 

More: How you can succeed and thrive after experiencing major setbacks

2. They take developing others to heart

Whether in service or sales, a great manager knows that their team needs leadership and training to improve and maintain. While great leaders don’t expect training to come from above, they earnestly provide it for those they oversee. Most dealership positions are incentivized heavily based on production, and finding ways to develop employees to be the next in line for leadership builds a healthier team for today and prepares for the upward march in the future.

3. They think ahead and strategize

Again, almost every dealership employee will have a memory burnt into their brain of a knee-jerk reaction by a manager. It could be a temper tantrum, throwing keys and a desk pad across the showroom after giving up gross on a deal (as this author has seen), or it could be any number of things. There’s no room for explosive displays of emotion as a leader, as it erodes trust that’s nearly impossible to regain.

Instead, great leaders are methodical and plan ahead. They need to react to situations less often since their preparation tends to eliminate those causes. Great leaders manage well because they’ve considered outcomes well before they occur and have strategized pro-actively.

4. Leaders are people of integrity


Arguably the most essential component of a great leader is their commitment to moral principles. Often called integrity, it’s steadfastness in doing the right thing rather than doing what’s fast or easy. It’s hardly a characteristic that can be taught in adulthood – at least, not in mere months. 

Leaders with integrity will acknowledge when they are wrong or when someone on their team has made a mistake and make good on it. Their life outside of work reflects an upstanding citizen that proves they can be trusted by their leaders, too, rather than someone who needs to be constantly watched. 

Their integrity might seem like it can cost the dealership money by following through on a miswritten deal or service quote. Still, in reality, it firms up both the staff’s and customers’ faith in the dealership and leads to better team and customer retention.

5. They communicate well

Neck and neck with integrity is communication. Some managers believe their position means they’re privy to more information or that their team should blindly follow their instructions. However, that fosters an organization of subordination, devaluing those in positions below. Consistent, clear communication doesn’t just instruct someone about a task but helps them see why it’s essential. Their tone is respectful, their words are impactful, and they speak person-to-person, not manager-to-subordinate.

Listening is also practiced with an open mind. Great leaders foster a culture of dialog; knowing their team’s ideas and feedback can make the dealership run more smoothly or be more profitable. Listening skills are also a great way to identify who among the team might be the next great leader for the store.

Managers must be trained thoroughly to excel in their position; there is no doubt. But dealership decision-makers should keep a close eye on the caliber of person they promote to positions of authority and leadership so that their teams can thrive.

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Jason Unrau
Jason Unrau
Jason Unrau is an automotive specialist with more than 15 years of experience at the dealership level. Focusing mainly on fixed operations and the service industry, Jason’s expertise is in enhancing the customer experience and promoting a healthy, profitable service department.

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