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9 Qualities of Servant Leaders

By Melissa Maldonado, Director of Customer Support, Auto/Mate Dealership Systems

The traditional view of leadership is a top-down, authoritarian hierarchy. When many dealers started working years ago, this was the typical structure. There was also a general belief that a high-pressure sales environment drove financial success.

But a growing body of research suggests otherwise. It turns out that high-pressure environments create workplace stress and disengaged employees, which is bad for business.

Many successful companies have adopted servant leadership styles, including Southwest Airlines, Costco, Quiktrip, Marriott, Nordstrom and Starbucks. Not coincidentally, many of these organizations have also made the Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.

Practicing servant leadership can turn your dealership into a “best place to work.” But what does it take to become a servant leader?

A servant leader:

Thinks “You” not “Me.” Someone who thinks “How does this benefit me?” is disqualified as a servant leader. It requires caring about others.

Values diverse opinions. As a dealer you have power and can easily adopt the attitude: “It’s my way or the highway.” However, if you’re a servant leader, you will ask managers and employees who may be impacted by your decisions what they think, and you will value their opinions.

Cultivates a culture of trust. Employees who feel trusted are more relaxed and confident in the job they do. Nobody likes being micromanaged, so trust your team to do their job by setting clear expectations and fair boundaries. Your employees must also be able to trust you to make the right decision. For example, if you find out that an employee has stolen from your, what would you do? Fire them, right? What if it’s your top salesperson who sells 30 cars per month? Yes, you would fire them. Otherwise, you are breaking trust with your other employees.

Develops other leaders. Servant leaders invest in their employees and help them develop their careers. Additionally, servant leaders provide opportunities for career growth and teach others to lead.

Helps people with life issues. Greet your team and talk to them daily and get to know them. A servant leader cares about their employees and helps them with life issues, not just work issues. For example, at Auto/Mate we had an employee who was dealing with health issues. His position required a lot of travel, but we re-worked his responsibilities so that he could travel less and focus on his health.

It’s also important to invest in your employees’ well-being. Offer to pay for classes, or start company programs for weight loss or eliminating debt.

Recognizes others. Feeling underappreciated at work is the #1 reason Americans leave their jobs. Deliver praise and recognition often.

Sells instead of tells. A servant leader is the opposite of a dictator. It’s about persuading, not commanding. It’s no coincidence that many great leaders have been salespeople. That’s because employees generally don’t want to be told what to do. A good leader can “sell” what needs to be done in a way so that the employees want to do it.

Thinks long term. Are you always worried about the next quarter, or do you make decisions based on where you want to be five years from now? A servant leader thinks about the next generation, the next leader, the next opportunity. This means making decisions that may hurt today but will help you in the future.

An example of this is the recession that began in 2007. The CEOs of Southwest and Costco both stated that they wouldn’t lay off any employees, and they didn’t. They chose not to because they cared about them and knew in the long term they would need those employees. Both companies took a short-term hit but in the long run, they outperformed many of their competitors.

Acts with humility. When your dealership is doing well, do you take credit or do you give credit where it’s due?  “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” — C.S. Lewis

As a servant leader, your job is to create a culture where your employees want to come to work every day. You’ll be successful when your employees feel valued, know what their mission and purpose is, and feel excited about their personal and professional futures.

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