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Hiking in the Andes puts dealership folks in touch with themselves.

I've been suffering from flash temper all my life and I've just, well, brutalized people, employees, you know, and then belittled them for being soft when they quit. In our industry, we have an abundance of meetings to attend beyond the walls of our dealerships conventions, seminars, workshops, 20-groups and speeches. Most focus on tactical issues: techniques to better focus pay plans, batten down

“I've been suffering from flash temper all my life… and I've just, well, brutalized people, employees, you know, and then belittled them for being soft when they quit.”

In our industry, we have an abundance of meetings to attend beyond the walls of our dealerships — conventions, seminars, workshops, 20-groups and speeches.

Most focus on tactical issues: techniques to better focus pay plans, batten down expenses (oh, those policy adjustments!), optimize technology, enhance customer satisfaction, increase productivity and speed the turn of inventories — to mention the more obvious ones.

A smaller percentage of these gatherings focus on strategic or “big picture” issues such as how to differentiate the dealership from its competitors and how to adjust to the broad impact of “the new economy” on our “old economy” model. These meetings are necessary and important as continuing education for dealers and their managers.

However, there is another kind of meeting all of us in leadership positions need on a regular basis — the meeting with the person in the mirror. It's largely absent when we survey our personal planners as well as the calendar of industry events. This is the meeting most of us steadfastly avoid. Why?

Because it so often poses difficult questions that do not readily yield to our standard operating procedures. Yet, in a culture changing at increasing speed in ways that are dramatically affecting the relationship between work and family, it has become imperative for us to face and wrestle with those questions.

Such as, “If I'm successful, why can't I seem to make enough time for myself, my wife, my children?”

“Why do I so frequently find myself apologizing for getting home hours after I've promised and then trying to buy love to get rid of guilt?”

“If I'm preaching the gospel of accountability to my employees, isn't it hypocrisy not to extend that to include accountability to my own family and theirs?”

“Why do I appear to be in control at work and yet not in control of my life as a whole? Why am I so readily swept up into life as a speeding bullet?”

“What is it that drives me to portray myself as some kind of invincible superhero?”

“Why do I have this aching feeling deep in my gut that there is a gap between my spiritual values and the way I actually conduct my life day to day?”

These are important questions because they go to the heart of what it is that drives us, what decisions we make, how we make them and why we make them, what kind of people we hire and how well we mobilize their talents, how sensitive we are to our customers' needs and desires and, over all, whether our vision is clear or clouded.

Over the last five years, I've become increasingly attuned to these issues from a small but steady stream of courageous people from dealerships across North America who have attended our four-day leadership workshop, LeaderOne.

It's an outgrowth of my own professional experience and the balancing act I had to master as a single father during most of my retail automotive career. This is a largely facilitated workshop, which is to say that we offer a variety of exercises that invite the participants to find their own answers to whatever dilemmas are current for them. There are no lectures or textbooks. Within the safety of this exploratory atmosphere some important insights emerge.

Says one dealer on the third day, “I thought I was the master at work. I plan my days with real discipline and yet, I can't seem to find five really good minutes with my kid. The cost at home is obvious. My wife and I bicker a lot over this. But I just realized for the first time one of the reasons my employees aren't as responsive as I want them to be. I mean, how can you really respect someone who neglects his family?”

Another workshop participant, a 30-something second-generation dealer says he discovered how much he was “trying too hard to fill my father's shoes, rather than just be my own person and make the business into something that really fits with me.”

Yet another acknowledges, “I've been suffering from flash temper all my life, really, since I was a kid…and I've just, well, brutalized people, employees, you know, and then belittled them for being soft when they quit.

I never even allowed myself to think that I was the one with the problem.”

A general manager with long tenure in his store admitted, “I've let my dealer push me in directions that really don't square with what my faith teaches me. Fact is, I didn't stand up when I should have and now sitting down has become a habit. I got to understand why I'm doing this and make a change…got to find my guts because it's killing me inside.”

Last year, my son, 26, and I took 13 folks on a two-week sojourn in the Peruvian Andes as an extended version of our workshop. Ten of these were dealership personnel from a wide array of positions - administrative assistant, parts manager, CFO, a number of sales managers and general sales managers and three dealer principals.

It was heartening to see these people “break the mold” of the usual businessperson by committing to a trip designed to take them out of their normal day-to-day environment so they could more readily find their way into themselves.

After a strenuous half-day hike from 8,000 to 13,000 feet, an individual who had been a dealer/general manager for a dozen years told us, “Helplessness. That's it. That's the feeling I've been fighting against all my life. It made me obsessed, determined, maybe even brilliant…but it cost me so much. I don't know where it started but I can tell you, boy, it's really stuck deep in me. I've been leading from fear of that feeling my whole career. I can barely imagine what it would be like to lead from real confidence…I mean, the genuine article, rather than this very clever mask of confidence I've been wearing all this time.”

One other hiker turned to me suddenly and said, “I just realized I've been walking around all my life with the feeling that I'm not good enough so I keep working and working and working to prove that I am.”

Each of these individuals has come to the realization they have substantial unfinished business calling for resolution within them. Most of them have endured the teases and even taunts of colleagues who have chided about “that warm-fuzzy, touch-feely stuff” to which they are committed.

But their conviction is strong enough to see well beyond that kind of one-dimensionalizing. They know there is serious unfinished business residing in most of us, in our personality dynamics, not just within the strategic or tactical aspects of our operations. That unfinished inner business clearly limits the quality and quantity of material success. The brief moments of illumination described here have been, for most of these men and women, only the beginnings of inner adventures that are every bit as challenging and rewarding as anything they have faced in their lives.

They are learning not to run from the mirror. They are learning to stop trying to overcome their fear, anger, hurt, sadness and confusion. They are learning to move into it, to dive down, through and out of the tumultuous feelings swirling just beneath the surface of their day-to-day awareness. And they are learning how this inner business process continues to broaden their vision and deepen their leadership capacity in the outer journey of worldly action.

No doubt, the meeting in the mirror is a daunting one, which is why so many of us avoid it. This encounter need not and should not be undertaken alone, of course.

There are good coaches for it, just as there are good coaches for strategy and tactics — people who care, who can create a safe environment for personal inquiry, people who understand business and its high achievers, people who understand that none of us can grow beyond given limits without a trusted colleague who will help us face the truth of who we are so we can take full responsibility for every aspect of our lives, not just our businesses.

Bob Kamm is president of Kamm Consulting in San Luis Obispo, California and author of the book “The Superman Syndrome: Why the Information Age Threatens Your Future and What You Can Do About It.” Web site: Email: [email protected].

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