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By Nadine Jackson, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

When I started working with a group of 25 dealer principals (DPs) in a motor car retail organisation, I was immediately struck by the contrast of leadership styles among them. This was confirmed in the extensive leadership surveys carried out with their people, which indicated that some were experienced as very approachable and good-hearted, though this was often mistaken for weakness. Others however, ruled with an iron fist, requiring absolute control when managing their people.

One such “iron fist” DP was very frank and honest about his leadership approach. Characteristics included the need to control everything in the dealership in minute detail, regular tongue-lashings of staff for the slightest infractions, as well as employees who were constantly walking around the dealership in fear of being disciplined.

The introduction of the Legitimate Leadership model into the organisation, which has the objective of cultivating trust and loyalty in relationships between leaders and employees, posed a significant challenge for this individual.

Despite his initial struggle to connect with the content, the DP was committed and continued to question and challenge the principles in the pursuit of understanding and translating these practically into his every-day work relationships.

After attending a number of leadership workshops (the two-day Legitimate Leadership Introduction as well as more specialised modules) the DP found himself exasperated, not only from struggling with the principles but also from the lack of results his dealership was delivering. He asked me as a Legitimate Leadership associate to assist him in changing his approach. What may have seemed to be a small step has proved to be a very important one.

The DP committed to shifting his own intent from focusing on getting results out of people to caring for and growing them to fulfil their potential.

What was done:

  • The starting point for the DP was to identify those individuals in the dealership who were in desperate need of time and attention and had received no form of growth or development in the past;
  • The next step was to meet with his sales team to discuss a change in approach moving forward;
  • The DP gave up control of numerous tasks in the dealership and delegated these to specific individuals, including but not limited to: mall demonstrations; showroom floor layouts; and creating a positive atmosphere on the dealership floor (music, weekend entertainment, etc);
  • Tasks were clarified – for instance, who was accountable and what the DP’s expectation of each individual’s unique/specific contribution was.

The following changes were implemented:

  • The DP invested time in assisting three specific individuals who he believed would benefit most from his care and time and attention:
    • The dealership’s finance and insurance executive was assisted (financially and otherwise) to obtain her driver’s license;
    • A woman who had been a cleaner for her entire working life, began an on-the-job coaching process with the view to transitioning into a receptionist role in future; and
    • A worker from the wash bay who had indicated his desire to develop and become a driver was assisted financially and with lessons and practice with a view to obtaining his driver’s license and potentially becoming a driver in future.
  • The sales team drew up an action plan to address issues and implement agreed actions. Each team member committed to specific contributions for the month, including vehicle sales and other unique contributions.
  • The pre-owned sales manager was taken under the wing of the DP and attended “head office” meetings with him to increase his level of experience and exposure.
  • The concept of being held accountable was implemented. For instance, a top salesman whose results were always great, but whose attitude and behaviour had a negative impact on the team and the dealership as a whole, was disciplined (and has subsequently left the dealership’s employ due to continued discipline and accountability problems).

The results of what was done:

  • Care, and time and attention:
    • The finance and insurance executive successfully passed her drivers’ license on her first attempt in July 2016 and is now able to fully enjoy the employee benefits of her role and act independently;
    • The cleaning lady is currently acting in the role of receptionist on a regular basis and her training is now extending to the licensing and registration of vehicles;
    • Unfortunately the wash bay worker did not follow through on his practice or lessons and has not obtained his driver’s license (DP’s comment: I needed this failure to appreciate the other successes more).
  • Unique/specific contributions:
    • The pre-owned sales team continues to achieve targets;
    • The new car sales team achieved their target for the first time in a number of months;
    • Staff morale has made a significant turnaround and there is a palpable vibe and energy in the dealership.
  • The pre-owned sales manager:
    • This manager says that since the DP has given him (and other staff) more responsibility, and it has been made clear who is accountable for what, he feels much more motivated, that he is a part of the team, and has developed more brand loyalty and a sense of belonging.
  • The concept of being held accountable has been implemented.
    • The remaining sales executives have shown improved performance and morale following the departure of following the departure of the former “top salesman”.

Detailed below are the sales figures for the past few quarters as provided by the relevant DP:



The above figures reflect the dramatic improvement in new car sales results from Quarter 3 to Quarter 4 following the changes committed to by the DP in April 2016.

Whilst the pre-owned car sales showed a marginal decline, quarter to quarter, they achieved their year to date target.


  • The above indicates that the essential differentiator is behaviours and attitudes, which are a matter of choice by the individual.
  • The DP has clearly demonstrated the three critical characteristics for a successful Legitimate Leadership intervention: Insight, Courage and Perseverance.
  • Visitors to the dealership now experience the staff as energetic, acting with a sense of urgency and direction.
  • Fundamentally, what the DP did was make a choice to GIVE instead of TAKE.