What's Your Management Style?

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By learning and tweaking your strategic management approach, you can improve your dealership's bottom line.

Sometimes we forget that different people in our respective organizations need to be treated differently in order to maximize their effectiveness. Obviously, you wouldn't speak to your business partner the way you would speak to a new motorclothes associate. And the manner in which you interact with your sales team might be different than the way you approach your parts and accessories team.

While some of these differences are learned via trial and error are now second nature to you, it might be valuable to dig a little deeper into your strategic management style to help you smooth out the rough edges and improve your effectiveness with your fellow co-workers. Trust me, if done right, your bottom-line results will pay off in spades. You and your people will be less frustrated, your loss of valuable team members to the competition will diminish, and team interaction will be more productive and fun. After all, if your troops aren't treated right, they won't treat your customers right either. Then down go your sales and profits.

The overall management style defines the way we interact with employees. The four basic styles are: tell, sell, consult and join. While you can change your style with study, practice and reinforcement, it is not done without significant effort. In addition, it is easier to detect someone else's style than it is your own. Nevertheless, if you want to improve your effectiveness, you must know and understand your inherent style, then modify it according to the situation and the person your dealing with.

A Tell manager tends to bark out orders, sometimes like a drill sergeant. They literally "tell" people what to do and when and how to do it. There's not a lot of leeway in their direction — it's specific and direct — and there's not much room for Q&A.

Sell managers still give orders but they appreciate the value of buy-in so they tend to explain ("sell") the "why" of their direction. That's certainly more helpful for the recipient and makes the direction more palatable and understandable.

The Consult manager has a clear opinion of the right direction on a given issue, but will typically ask, "What do you think?" somewhere in the conversation. Obviously, this type of manager gets much more buy-in and consensus than the previous two. Depending on the answer to the "What do you think?" question, the "consult" will be willing to change his or her opinion on the right direction to use. Typically, managers that use this approach will elicit the most out of their people and garner the best results.

Join managers typically do not state an opinion about what to do in a given circumstance. That isn't to say they don't know anything about the subject at hand, just that they're open to several effective solutions. They usually deal with equals and are willing to come to a "meeting of the minds."

Which is the best management style for developing a successful dealership? It depends. If you've just bought out a poor-performing dealership and need to change many of the processes and some of the people, the tell and sell styles might be most effective from the start.

On the other hand, if you've over the years developed over the years a seasoned team, most of the processes are clicking along reasonably well and the results are according to plan, then the Consult and Join styles might be most appropriate.

In the buyout situation above, where immediate change is necessary, you still can't treat everyone the same because you may have one great department manager in the group that doesn't need (and won't respond well to) a tell or sell style; constantly approaching him or her the same manner as the others might push that high-potential candidate out the door and off to the competition.

In the seasoned-team scenario, you may have a new hire that must be dealt with more directly and without much leeway or ambiguity; a tell/sell style is more appropriate for that individual, at least until he becomes more effective on his own and requires less direction.

The most effective leaders (vs. managers) are able to utilize the most appropriate style at the right time and in the right circumstance. That's the key to success. And the best part is that it's all learned — either from your parents, from schooling, a Dale Carnegie Course, or a great former boss or leader. (I'm also a big fan of American Management Association courses – they're available almost anywhere, they're quick and easy, and not too expensive.)

Will you always pull the right arrow out of the quiver at the right time? Probably not at first, but with practice it will improve measurably. The goal is to learn to understand the objective at hand, be sensitive, and treat that person and situation with the most appropriate approach and style. That's what thinking strategically is all about.