At its base level, any company — dealerships included — consists of a group of individuals pulling together to achieve a goal. How leaders deal with their team’s unique challenges will often mean the difference between a smoothly operating organization and a dysfunctional cluster of clashing interests.
AutoSuccess: What qualities should a leader possess, or constantly work to improve, to maintain workplace harmony?
Andrew DiFeo, GM of Hyundai of St. Augustine: Two important qualities for a leader are to be an active listener and to be empathetic. You have to be understanding and put yourself in your employee’s shoes and see how they feel in certain situations — and to keep that in mind when you’re making major decisions. Having a culture where interactivity is fostered between all the departments is also important. In the past we’ve spoken about having departmental managers involved in all the meetings — that’s key to maintaining harmony and empowering your management staff. It’s also essential in letting your management staff empower their employees to make decisions on their own — within certain guidelines that align with a culture of the company.
Chris Saraceno, VP and Partner of Kelly Automotive Group: A leader needs to model the proper behavior in the workplace, and that behavior is in the very small stuff — being available for your people, being a team player and using the right words and phrases, such as “How can I support you?” and “What can I do to make sure the job gets done?” It also involves letting people know you’re proud of them, and letting someone know they’ve done a great job — and being very specific in your praise (“I liked how you did X.”)
Mike Good, GM of Street Toyota: Patience, transparency, trustworthiness, courage and selflessness are all trademarks of practiced leadership. Above all, however, is the skill of listening. Listening is the better half of communication. Everyone wants and needs to be heard. One of Covey’s Seven Habits is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Closing one’s mouth while exercising the opportunity to really hear a customer, co-worker, boss or spouse can be an eye- and ear-opening experience. Additionally, when a leader seeks feedback, solicits input and values others involvement, they affirm that individual’s worth. Listening and understanding promotes team unity and are the grease that lubricates the wheels of harmony.
AutoSuccess: When an employee is facing non-work challenges (home life, family, illness), how should a leader deal with that situation to enable them to maintain a work/life balance?
Andrew DiFeo: It goes back to the quality of having empathy for your employees and, within reason, allowing flexibility when things like that do come up, because they do come up in everybody’s lives, including the leader’s. It’s critical to maintain a culture that encourages the team members to help out when and where they can when non-work challenges prevent an employee from coming in to work all together or not being able to perform at 110 percent. Hopefully, those non-work challenges eventually resolve themselves and there’s a likely chance that non-work challenges will happen to other team members, and that initial employee can help out as they were helped. That’s a major benefit of having a team culture.
Chris Saraceno: You always want to seek first to understand what the situation is. I’m a big believer in, whenever possible, having face-to-face meetings, because a face-to-face meeting is very different from a text message or a voice conversation on the phone. You get to look at the team member’s body language and you really get to see just how stressed things are. I also think when they get to see you face-to-face, and see that you’re calm and listening, it can help. You can come up with some solutions together, and that makes a big difference when giving someone advice or asking them what do they think they need to do.
Mike Good: First, there are generally two types of employees: the type who rarely has events, and, by contrast, the other type, who lives a life of drama and you feel like the victim of their latest tragedy. Let’s assume we are dealing with the first type. Congratulations to the leaders who involve themselves in their employee’s non-work challenges. That means they care enough to know. Those leaders will employ a combination of sensitivity, accommodation and expectation clarity. Good leaders know the value of properly displayed empathy, balanced with mission-sensitive execution. Additionally, they continually monitor the challenge/progress necessary to manage the situation. It shows they really do care and they’re willing to act in the best interests of the associate.