Leading Up the Hill or Off the Cliff: Make Your Employees See the Light or Feel the Heat

June 9, 2016

As long as I can remember, I have been drawn to people who demonstrate strong leadership skills. My dad was a leader; with an active and creative mind, he inspired those around him. My dad demonstrated the ability to get things done and to lead others to do the same. Somehow my dad, Harvey Williams, learned to lead.

In 1950, he began his career at General Motors by working on the assembly line. When he retired 42 years later, he was a plant manager. Reflecting on my dad’s career, I clearly remember his colleagues interacting with him. With mutual respect, there was an energy and balanced desire to achieve worthwhile and necessary goals.

My dad was stern and focused; he was clear about goals. Building quality cars and saving costs were primary goals. Building a quality team and sharing the rewards and recognition was just as important.

John Maxwell, the world-renowned leadership speaker, is quoted as saying, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s Corp., said, “The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.”

Peter Drucker, the management and leadership guru, said plainly, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Each of these quotes has its own distinct nuance, which when understood and executed through a skilled leader makes for the potential of powerful results in any organization.

Like I said earlier, success and satisfaction are the result of balanced desires to achieve worthwhile goals that benefit both the provider (retail tire stores) and the user (retail tire customers).

When goals are misinterpreted and actions begin to drift, there is potential for conditions to become unbalanced, leading to disastrous results. If customer satisfaction goals and healthy business practices are replaced even slightly with more aggressive selling practices that focus more on hitting quotas or budgets, that is the beginning of a slippery slope. Left unchecked, the practice will lead to more unbalanced practices, and before long, overselling will become the norm.

Having spent 25 years in the retail automotive aftermarket in California and operating dozens of locations across the state, I’m familiar with the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). Overselling to an uninformed motoring public is a real problem, and the BAR meets the issue with strong regulations. The fines, penalties and closures lead to a loss of revenue, further potential investigations, and a loss of reputation.

All it takes is one counter person and one unhappy customer, and it becomes one big mess. Though a company has strong convictions about customer service and customer care, though a company has a customer-centric set of core values or a strong customer-satisfaction principle, all it takes is one issue to cause an incident that causes lasting damage.

It’s been my experience, however, that there is usually a trail of loose compliance that has been tolerated that lead to the incident. I say this because I’ve supervised stores that excelled in sales and profits without incident.

Some managers/locations have a propensity toward problems and issues with the number of occurrences of customer conflict. These same manager/locations demonstrate difficulty in resolving complaints and tend to have reasons why they believe customers are so unreasonable. This is a red flag, and unbalanced or noncompliant managers and staff have to be brought into compliance. This is usually an uncomfortable process, but owners who ignore the signs will pay a price. To the owners I say, “Listen to Vince Lombardi’s words on leadership, ‘The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined efforts of each individual.’”

No owner can claim ignorance; each of his team members (employees) represents each other and the whole enterprise. I’ve hired and managed a number of unsatisfactory (bad) managers, sales persons, and service techs. In some cases, you can bring compliance with generally accepted principles and company policy, and sometimes you can’t. If you have an unhealthy, unbalanced and out-of-compliant situation, it must be dealt with immediately.

As a young boy, my dad was committed to my compliance, and for the most part, I was equally committed. However, my dad would deal directly, swiftly, and with clarity in any of my unbalanced choices.

My last quote from a famous leader is from Ronald Reagan, “When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.”

My dad understood this before Reagan quoted it; I either saw the light or I felt the pain. As an owner, you can choose your pain. There are plenty of examples where the lack of leadership has led to severe consequences.

Winners win. Nobody wins (or loses) alone.    ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected].

To see more of Wayne Wiliams' Counter Intelligence columns, click:

Expenses Creep, and Gross Profit Leaks: Watch the 'Extras' That Affect Operating Expenses

People. Process. Profit: Keep Your Focus

A Simple Technique to Compete with the Big Boys

Helpful Tips for Winners

About the Author

Wayne Williams

Tire retailing expert Wayne Williams was president of ExSell Marketing Inc. and longtime author of MTD’s popular “Counter Intelligence” column.