How to Prepare the Next Generation of Car Dealership Leaders

September 25, 2020 John Kehm

The composition of dealership teams around the U.S. is changing – and getting younger. A 2019 industry study found that by 2020, Gen Z were expected to make up 20% of the dealership workforce – and interest is growing. How is your dealership preparing its next generation of leaders? 

Effective car dealership leaders know if you don’t give your up-and-coming team members the opportunity to eventually move into leadership roles, one of two things is likely to happen: Either they’ll go to a company that will give them growth opportunities, or they’ll become discouraged and lose the passion that made them so valuable.

To secure current and future success, car dealership leaders need to challenge themselves to identify the people in their organization who are ready – or have great potential – to take the next step in their leadership training. 

In this post, we share five auto dealership best practices to help you prepare the next generation of car dealership leaders, including: 

  • Helping employees become effective coaches
  • Modeling effective listening
  • Encouraging employees to connect with other up-and-coming leaders
  • Helping employees become cultural leaders
  • Expanding employees’ expertise beyond their current role

Put Them In, Coach

It’s easy to think that the starting point of preparing a car dealership leader of the future is to start with the business and technical side of the auto industry, but research shows this may not be the case. In fact, Google took a deep, data-driven dive into what differentiates great managers from the rest and identified 10 key behaviors that make managers successful in their organization. They found that technical skills and knowledge are important – seventh out of 10 – but the number one attribute of a successful manager was “is a good coach.”

Coaching is more than managing, and it’s much more than telling someone what to do. When John Wooden, one of the greatest sports coaches in history and winner of 10 NCAA college basketball championships, was asked what made someone a great coach, his response was simple: “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”

If you’ve played sports or participated in other competitive endeavors, you know instinctively what makes a good coach. Your favorite coaches were likely positive and supportive, but also firm and honest in helping you understand how to improve. They set clear expectations and limits on what was and was not allowed. They gave you the tools and guidance you needed to improve your performance, but at the end of the day taught you how to be responsible and accountable. They celebrated your successes and helped you view losses as an opportunity to improve in the future.

Make sure your dealership’s leadership training program includes opportunities for future dealership leaders to practice their coaching skills and that they also have coaching on how to improve their skills. The more effective they become as coaches, the more they’ll have success as leaders.

Listen Up – and Down

Effective listening – to team members, customers and others – is a learned and practiced skill. Being an effective and active listener builds trust and strong relationships, while being a poor listener puts relationships between dealership leaders and their teams at serious risk of failure. 

The best way to make active listening part of your dealership leadership training is simply to model it yourself. Actively check yourself for these best practices: 

  • Avoid “talking to” people, rather than having conversations with them. 
  • Wait to start preparing your response until they’ve finished delivering their message.
  • Listen not just to what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it. This includes body language, emotional tone and more.
  • Give the conversation your whole attention. Don’t multitask – and especially put down your phone.

The benefits aren’t just in team management. Active listening is most important when interacting with customers as a tool for ensuring you understand their wants and needs and that you understand and value them.

Grow Through Connections

Once you’ve identified a future car dealership leader, support them in their professional growth by giving them encouragement to build personal and professional relationships outside the walls of your dealership. This could take the form of participation in industry organizations like NADA, service organizations such as Rotary or Kiwanis, volunteer work in the community, etc.

It’s important that you’re helping your leader of the future build personal and professional relationships that will be part of their growth for years to come. Part of being a strong car dealership leader is having a robust personal and professional network outside the walls of your dealership. Help your future leaders jump-start that process by supporting them in taking the time necessary to do so.

Promote Cultural Leadership

We frequently discuss dealership culture, and for good reason. Our experience working with dealership partners of all types and sizes across the country makes it clear that the most important auto dealership best practice is to foster a dealership culture driven by customer experience (CX).

It’s very difficult in the modern era to be an effective car dealership leader without a strong commitment to customer experience and the culture that makes CX excellence possible. 

Dealer leadership training empowers up and coming leaders to more effectively model these behaviors by giving them a firmer grounding in the importance of CX culture and engaging them to find ways to grow that culture across the dealership. 

This poses a massive opportunity for dealers to both cement future success while potentially giving them a leg up on the competition right now by bringing their entire team up to speed. One recent industry study found 1 in 3 dealership leaders aren’t investing in employee training opportunities beyond what the OEM provides.

Expand Their Horizons

As you work with the next generation of car dealership leaders, one of the most critical things you can do is find ways to grow professionally outside the bounds of their existing experiences. 

The higher up you go in auto leadership, the more you need to know about things outside your initial area of expertise. Salesmen need to understand more about fixed ops. Finance professionals need to learn more about the intricacies of product. Service experts need to become familiar with marketing. 

This is especially important for the car dealership leaders of tomorrow, given the way the traditional walls between new and used sales, marketing, digital, fixed ops and finance have been coming down in dealerships. Make sure you’re fostering inter-departmental communication by ensuring your databases (CRM, DRM and sales platform) easily integrate and employee-facing technology is easily accessible to every member of your sales team, service department and F&I staff.  


Interested in learning how Mastermind’s dealership training or predictive analytics solutions can help improve your dealership’s culture? Contact us to learn more.

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