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Are Your Heavy-Duty Parts Managers Lacking Leadership Skills?

A lack of leadership skills at the management level is not uncommon in the heavy-duty parts industry and this is having a negative impact on the bottom line.

The foundation of every great business is leadership.

Executives and managers of heavy-duty parts stores, distribution centers, and manufacturing plants play a vital role in making sure that the business reaches its full potential.

The Role of the Leader

When you think about the structure of the typical business the leadership group is always at the top.

In fact, it appears like a triangle, with a solid base of employees at the bottom providing stability to the whole structure. As you move upward within the triangle you have middle management and above, at the point of the triangle, sits the leader or executives, making decisions, and telling the base WHAT needs to be done.

I believe that the top-down structure is all wrong. In a great business, the leader is the very foundation of the business supporting the managers, and the leadership and managers support the employees. In that sense, the leader is at the bottom, the leader and the managers are what provides stability to the whole structure. Not only do the leaders and managers tell the employees WHAT needs to be done, but they also tell them HOW and WHY things need to be done.

Missing Leadership Skills

In 20+ years, I have observed that every company in the heavy-duty parts industry has managers and executives who tell their direct reports WHAT to do.

Each department has the objectives laid out for it at the beginning of each fiscal year. The finance department is asked to reduce expenses, the operation department is asked to increase production, and the sales and marketing department is asked to increase revenue.

What has been most often missing is telling the direct reports HOW these things should be done and WHY it’s important these things are done at all.


I had a Regional Manager tell me one time, “I’m not telling you how to do that, that is why we hired you because you are supposed to have the expertise to do your job.”

On the surface, this seems like the manager had a point but when you go just below the surface you realize that this is a recipe for disaster. A business without systems and training is an inconsistent business and that inevitably costs the company money.

Businesses that have a system and training program that tells employees HOW to do their jobs creates a consistent work environment for employees and a consistent experience for customers, suppliers, lenders, and investors.

All you have to do is look at businesses like McDonald’s which runs one of the greatest business systems ever created to know that this works.


Even more important (and rarer) is a leadership group in the heavy-duty parts industry who tells their employees WHY things should be done.

I had the same Regional Manager I mentioned earlier in the article tell me, “the reason we are all here is to give the shareholders of this company 8% growth this year.”

Well as you can imagine, I was not very inspired by that mission statement. If you want employees to be motivated you must give them a reason to be motivated. That reason must have real significance.

For example, everyone at Diesel Laptops is on a mission to make heavy-duty repair shops more efficient. They work every day to make sure that diagnostics are done right.

The WHY goes deeper than making repair technicians jobs easier, it is to support the trucking industry which supports our entire society. By making heavy-duty repair more efficient the employees at Diesel Laptops are contributing to the safety and well-being of their families, communities, and nation.

Job Performance vs. Leadership Ability

What makes a good leader?

Well, I can tell you that someone who is great at their job isn’t necessarily going to be great leading people who do that job.

This is how this usually goes down in the heavy-duty parts industry.

Let’s say there are four heavy-duty parts technicians working in a parts department. Two of them are average parts technicians and two of them are great parts technicians.

One of the average parts technicians applies to be in sales and goes on to become a great salesperson. The other average parts technician is happy to work in parts and has no ambition to be in a management position.

One of the great parts technicians leaves to work for the competition and the other great parts technician is eventually promoted to Parts Manager, then to Branch Manager, and eventually, they may even become a Regional Manager.

Here is the problem with promoting that great parts technician, they don’t possess any management or leadership skills. They are a great parts technician but a poor leader.

Avoiding the Leadership Lid

How do you decide which person should be promoted to a leadership or management position and which person is already in the perfect position?

It comes down to personality profile, education, and experience. But mostly personality profile because you can always provide someone with education and work experience but you can’t change someone’s personality profile.

The genetic code that was passed to each person by their grandparents and parents combined with the environment they grew up in shaped their personality profile.

This means that some people have the profile to be a leader or manager and some people don’t!

There are two rules that you should keep in mind:

Rule #1: Performance in a current job may mean nothing when making the decision to promote someone!

When someone is doing a great job it is because they are well suited to do that job. Their personality profile matches the profile of the job. This is no indication on its own that they should be promoted to a management or leadership role.

Rule #2: How long a person has been with a company means nothing when making the decision to promote someone!

In the heavy-duty parts industry, I have also seen people promoted to Parts Management and Branch Management positions solely because they have been working at that branch for many years. The length of time on the job on its own is not an indication that they should be promoted to a management or leadership role.

How to Find Great Leaders

If you are looking for a leader for your company then you need to build a profile of exactly what kind of leader you are looking for. Then you need to profile everyone in your company and find the person that has a personality profile that matches.

This could mean that the employee with an MBA is not promoted and the janitor becomes the CEO one day. My friends at Concord Consulting can tell you the story of when this actually happened with one of their clients.

At this point, you need to identify what education and experience this individual may be missing, if any, and ensure that this person receives what they need to become the leader they are born to be.

If you are trying to advance personally you need to understand how you are built, what you can and can’t do, and you need to put yourself unapologetically in the path of an opportunity that aligns with your personality profile. If leadership is something that you are built for then start being a leader today in your current role so that you demonstrate that you have what it takes to be promoted to a leadership position.

The bottom line cost of promoting employees that are good at their job but lack leadership ability is high. Not only are you setting the employee who you promote up for failure but you may end up losing many employees who are proficient in their positions.

That is the hidden cost of making this mistake. Great employees won’t stick around for long if the wrong people end up in managment or leadership positions.

Would you like some help with leadership in your company?

Jamie Irvine works with forward-thinking heavy-duty companies as a consultant. Leadership evaluation and training are part of the consulting work that Jamie does with heavy-duty truck & trailer companies.

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Author: Jamie Irvine

Jamie Irvine is the host of The Heavy-Duty Parts Report and a consultant that works with manufacturers, distributors, and SaaS companies serving the heavy-duty truck parts industry.


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