Cheerleaders Welcome

As more Millennials enter the auto repair workforce, managers need to adopt a different leadership style.

As a leader, I know a great leader’s traits must be learned. While there are many traits associated with effective leadership, I find that I struggle with one trait most often: the ability to “encourage the heart,” or, as I like to call it, the “cheerleader trait.”

Why do I struggle with that one? Perhaps it’s because I am a Gen-Xer who spent most of my time as a young technician around role models from the Greatest Generation, those who participated in the war efforts during World War II. I distinctly remember the feeling of uneasiness whenever one of my supervisors visited me in my work area.

They didn’t come to tell me what a great job I was doing. Those occasions would inevitably involve a problem – or even worse, the dreaded comeback. Minimal communication was my “congratulations,” while the only other major appreciation came in the form of a paycheck every two weeks.

Perhaps I was trained around so-called role models who had poor leadership skills, or maybe the needs of young techs these days are changing. Either way, I’ve learned that to keep young people happy they need to hear the good as well as the bad.

Although my generation may have been able to tolerate minimal interaction and a culture that simply communicated “Just do your job,” today’s emerging workforce will not. Millennials will soon make up the largest group within our workforce, and the culture they grew up in strongly conflicts with a management style that doesn’t offer praise.

Millennials were raised with the belief that their opinion was valuable and doing their best would be rewarded. I refer to this as the Trophy Syndrome – trophies to everyone, not only for winning but also for participating. Millennials need more interaction and positive reinforcement than my generation. So for the business to grow and prosper, my leadership style must change to meet the needs of the new generation.

Fortunately, I understand my deficiencies. Learning this lesson has cost me long-term employees and more net profit than I care to total up. But once you’re aware of your deficiencies, you need to address them. If left unchanged, so will the consequences.

Because that brand of false praise is not part of my normal routine, I struggled with change until I unwittingly hired a cheerleader. This woman, a young Millennial, started each day with high fives and “Good jobs!” She consistently rallied us around common goals and directed our attention to areas that needed work.

I found myself being unexpectedly affected by her style and subsequently following her example. She reminded me more of a coach rallying a team before the crucial game than a boss laying out the day’s tasks. Since hiring her, I’ve watched morale improve, workflow smooth out, communication expand and shop efficiency grow.

My shop now employs more Millennials than any other generation, which is not the industry norm today. But soon, most shops also will have a majority of this generation in their workforce. Dealing adequately with this age group will require major managerial shifts. But these changes will benefit both the employees and the business.

I’ve even had to switch from telling the employees to, “put on your big-boy pants” to reminding myself and my shop manager to “put on our cheerleader outfits.”