Effective leaders work to keep their skills up to date — and constantly grow them — while keeping an eye on the future and being prepared for what’s coming. Part of training tomorrow’s leaders is modeling this proactive behavior. We’ll finish this series of the Dealer Panel about preparing new leaders by taking a look at what our panel does to maintain their own leadership skills, and how they focus on meeting the challenges that are always approaching.
AutoSuccess: What do you do to make sure your own leadership skills are up to date and effective?
Andrew DiFeo, GM of Hyundai of St. Augustine: I try to take a little time each day to devote to personal development, whether it’s through listening to a podcast on the way to work, reading a short article in a magazine or blog while I’m eating lunch at my desk, or taking a couple of days out of the office each month to attend a conference or training seminar specifically related to leadership.
Chris Saraceno, VP and Partner of Kelly Automotive Group: Part of it is being on this Dealer Panel and reading AutoSuccess on a monthly basis. I’m also constantly listening to podcasts. I love listening to Dave Anderson, David Lewis and Grant Cardone — there are tons of great material available online. I go to different conventions to learn how others are facing challenges, and I make sure I surround myself with other business leaders — not just auto leaders but people who are successful in business in general. Through education, constant reading and surrounding myself with people who are excelling in business, I become more prepared to lead and excel, as well.
Mike Good, GM of Street Toyota: Read, listen and learn. Avoid the “know it all” trap. It’s been said that ego is the anesthetic that deadens the pain of foolishness. Lose it! Be open to new questions, thoughts, ideas and concepts. Seek feedback from all levels. We are sometimes blind to the obvious. In 1899, U.S. Patent Office Commissioner Charles Duell pronounced civilization had reached its apogee by saying “everything that can be invented has been invented.” How often do we think there’s no room for improvement because we have it “all figured out”? Personally, I try to enjoy a TED talk once a day. I gain fresh perspective from true leaders, and that includes the folks who report to me. I learn a lot from them. Leadership is a learned art, along with the art of listening. It requires intentionality. We never stop learning while seeking to sharpen our skills.
Kimberly Cardinal Piscatelli, Vice President and Partner of Cardinal Honda: Is it “soldiers are only as good as their leaders,” or is it the other way around? I make an effort to surround myself with “A” players. The leaders I choose to work with each bring their own unique strengths. I am a leader who believes all leaders should be students. Our business culture of collaborative mentoring allows room for each leader to mentor the other leaders on our team in their identified area of strength. If you want to be a better tennis player, play up. If you want to keep your leadership skills up to date and effective, surround yourself with the best leaders you can find.
AS: What challenges do leaders face today that might not have been the case a few years ago?
AD: There’s a tremendous amount of changing expectations from employees on what the workplace is, and what it should be. I think decades ago it was just about producing return on investment; today it’s really trying to create and foster a good environment for employees to thrive, both professionally and personally in the workplace.
CS: I’ve been doing this for 33 years, and there are always going to be new challenges. I believe it’s important to continually adapt, learn and connect with other top business leaders. As soon as you lose the drive and hunger to continually grow and excel, that’s usually the beginning of your becoming average. I don’t have a specific challenge, because I think there’s always going to be a new challenge. It’s more of the mindset you hold, which is generated by how you overcome issues and the people with whom you surround yourself. You’ve got to meet and talk with other business leaders, both locally and nationally, and have the mindset that “iron sharpens iron.” Every year, there’s going to be some new challenge where it looks like everything changes. It doesn’t. You’ve got to adapt with it.
MG: Our business has evolved from one of pedaling iron to creative and sophisticated merchandising. We recognize the challenges as two-fold. One is harnessing the balance between encouraging Internet utilization, social media and instant communication as a marketing tool while discouraging the free use of Internet, social media and instant communication that cause major distraction factors. The second is wrestling with the multi-cultural and multi-generational workforce and customer base. It requires courage, sensitivity and wisdom. There’s no room left for overbearing, egotistical or tyrannical leadership in today’s automotive industry.
KCP: The obvious answer would have something to do with the rapidly evolving technology and its effect on our industry. Not for this dealer. I believe the biggest challenge today is attracting new talent to our dealerships. Perhaps the outrageous — if brilliant — stereotypical TV commercials are to blame. Maybe we aren’t looking in the right place for new recruits. Attracting today’s college graduates may be the answer. Every dealer I know is searching for energetic, intelligent and ambitious salespeople. Every college graduate I know is seeking a career with a competitive salary in a professional environment, not to mention the opportunity to advance. Do college students feel that selling cars is beneath them? Do they picture themselves in a plaid sport coat with a loud tie? If advertising sales, insurance sales and medical equipment and pharmaceutical sales are perceived as great entry-level careers for college graduates, why isn’t automobile sales included? We need to find ways to recruit students into the lucrative careers waiting in our accounting departments, BDCs and on our showroom floors. We need to reach out to our state dealer associations and our manufacturers to develop a recruitment strategy to attract qualified business students to our industry. Opportunity is knocking.