5 Leadership Strategies I Learned From Working on Cars

My primary hobby is working on older cars, so when I get free time to myself, I often spend it sourcing parts and using them to fix my vehicles. Like many hobbies, this one has taught me a lot about life and the workplace. It may seem strange, but working on my ’82 Toyota Land Cruiser or ’64 Pontiac GTO has helped me better understand some effective leadership strategies for any industry.

Here are the top 5 leadership strategies I’ve learned from a lot of nights and weekends spent in the garage.

  1. Embrace New Technology and Tools
  2. Invest for Success
  3. Monitor Your Inputs
  4. Recognize That Everyone Has Different Needs
  5. Don’t Be so Quick To Discard

Leadership Strategy 1: Embrace New Technology and Tools

When you think of installing new technology in older cars, your first thought will probably be about equipment like an in-dash touchscreen, top-of-the-line sound system or even self-driving capabilities. But the latest automobile technology extends beyond these in-cabin features. Safety technology like automatic high beams, rearview cameras, lane-keeping systems and blind-spot monitors can help keep you — and everyone around you — safe.

Similarly, you can greatly improve your employees’ work lives by providing them with the latest tools and technology they need to do their best work. From customer relationship management and point-of-sale systems to even the computers they use, your approach to workplace technology can either make your staff’s work easier and more streamlined or impede their ability to meet the goals you set for them.

For example, look back to the early days of the pandemic. Organizations that embraced technology and looked for ways to leverage available tools to keep their employees functioning at a high level were able to weather the initial disruption of stay-at-home orders.

After that initial period, many leaders faced a choice — remove some of those tools and go back to the former way of working, or continue embracing the resources and flexibility offered by technology for both employee and organizational benefit. Those who were willing to embrace technology likely saw happier employees and a competitive advantage in recruiting.

Technology can also provide rail guards for employees, helping foster a safer and happier workplace. Human resource management systems can allow employees to share concerns and feedback efficiently and confidentially. When employees feel safe in providing honest, constructive criticism — and then can see it addressed quickly — both they and the organization benefit.

Leadership Strategy 2: Invest for Success

When you’re restoring a car, you get out what you put in. Like almost any activity, the more you invest (time, money or both) the better the result. If you rebuild a classic car but only use the cheapest parts, it’s unlikely to last. As a business leader, the same is true for your employees — to get the most out of them, you need to invest in them.

That investment in your staff needs to start from day one. A quality employee onboarding process is one example of how investing in your employees from the start can drastically affect outcomes for them and your business at large. BambooHR found employees who felt they received effective onboarding are 18 times more likely to feel committed to their organization than employees who felt their onboarding process was ineffective.

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 5 of my book, “Lead, Don’t Manage,” where I discuss the importance of an effective onboarding process.

“Your goal, as a manager, is to set your new employees up for success from day one. You can do this via a comprehensive company training and assimilation plan.

Employee assimilation is often known as onboarding and is one of the best methods of improving employee productivity, building employee loyalty and engagement, and helping your new employees become successful early on. Assimilation for new employees is all about communication between employer and employee. There should be a natural flow of communication, including who does what, company policies and procedures, manuals, and forms — information for new employees as well as answers to all their questions — throughout the assimilation process.”


Your company can significantly increase employee engagement and impact any employee retention strategies through an improved onboarding process. This process improves your business in two ways. First, per Workest, highly engaged employees had 147% higher earnings per share than their competition. Second, according to Glassdoor, a quality onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82%. So not only will your company spend less per hire, these employees will be more productive.

Leadership Strategy 3: Monitor Your Inputs

Anyone who owns a luxury or high-end sports car understands they need to fill it up with premium fuel rather than regular gas. If you don’t, you’ll increase wear on the engine and negatively affect its fuel efficiency and overall performance.

Maybe more relatable is the idea that what you put into your body (or mind) has a direct impact on your performance. Poor choices will negatively impact your physical and mental health, whether it’s too much fast food, excessive alcohol consumption, inadequate sleep or more.

While you aren’t responsible for what your employees eat and drink, you can affect what’s on their minds. To start, you can discover and acknowledge the reality of where your people are. By asking questions and listening to their answers, you can begin to understand your employees’ most pressing issues. Once you know where their minds are, you can help them address any challenges they might be facing.

For example, if your employees are struggling with meeting fatigue, review all regular meetings to ensure they’re helping your staff. If your company’s workers feel burned out, you can implement mandatory time off or another similar benefit to protect these staff members.

Leadership Strategy 4: Recognize That Everyone Has Different Needs

Every car is unique, even if it’s one of tens of thousands in a given year/model lineup. As you spend time with a specific car, you get to know its little quirks and adapt accordingly. This one has a slight left-side drift, that one has a minor fluid leak and needs to be topped off occasionally, and another makes a quiet whistling sound through the passenger window when it gets up over 65.

Each of your employees is unique, too. Every person has their own preference for the way they are managed, and this makes it imperative that business leaders handle their staff as individuals rather than as a collective group.

Again, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 9 of “Lead, Don’t Manage.”

“‘One size fits all’ doesn’t always work when it comes to workplace motivation. As a company leader, you must take the time to know what’s important for each employee; as an example, for one employee, getting to leave early for a job well done is a motivator, while for another, a genuine ‘Your contribution was essential for our success,’ is the best motivator around.”


Developing your emotional intelligence (skills like self-awareness, empathy and motivation) will assist you in recognizing and responding to your employees’ needs while retaining the context of their place in your organization as a whole.

Cultivating these skills also delivers tangible results. According to research from Stanford University, management can account for approximately one-fifth of variation in productivity between businesses. By honing your soft skills, you can substantially improve performance for both your individual employees and your company overall.

Leadership Strategy 5: Don’t Be so Quick To Discard

The final leadership strategy I’ve learned from working on cars is probably the most important. Why do people move on from a car when they do? I’ve found that most vehicles wind up in a junkyard because of normal wear and tear or neglect, not a major accident.

How are you helping your employees manage the miles they’ve put on over the years? It’s reasonable that your staff may feel burned out, especially considering the circumstances of the past few years (a global pandemic, economic uncertainty and large-scale global unrest). But it’s your responsibility as a leader to watch for employee burnout signs and help them pop their hoods and ensure everything is running smoothly.

Similarly, don’t just discard your employees with more miles behind them. Age discrimination is illegal, but it’s also bad business. Like other forms of diversity, age diversity can help you grow your customer base and even improve productivity. Per Forbes, the productivity of both older and younger employees is higher in companies with mixed-age work teams.

You should not treat your employees like cars — they’re not machines to get you from point A to point B. Still, these five tips I’ve learned from working on cars can help any leader improve their effectiveness.

The next time an employee leaves your organization, think about whether these five lessons could have changed the outcome. Even better, take the time to implement these five leadership strategies and you can prevent that employee from wanting to quit in the first place.

Need more help in becoming a better leader? Get a copy of my book, Lead, Don’t Manage, or book me to speak at your next event!

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