Leadership was a trait others saw in Shawn Hays before he ever saw it in himself.
Now a well-known name in the industry, Hays got his start in car sales in 2007 after losing his corporate sales job. It didn’t take long before he discovered that the dealership was the perfect place for him – he got to work with people, which was always high on his list of importance, but he could also make a better income.
“I took [selling cars] as a ‘had to,’ but I ended up falling in love with it,” Hays says.
As is the case with successful sales consultants at many dealerships, Hays was offered a managerial role once he consistently led in sales and proved to understand the business. But he rejected more than one promotion out of what he calls his “selfishness”: Yes, he was grateful to the dealership, but he was focused squarely on himself.
“I didn’t see the advantage at that time, because I cared about myself, my bank account,” he says. “I hadn’t transitioned into helping others yet.”
Once the “aha” moment hit – that what he really enjoyed was teaching and inspiring others – a new chapter opened in his life, one that continues to unfold today.
Known as “Your Car Guy,” Hays’ current dealership home is Dan Cummins Chevrolet Buick in Paris, Kentucky. He is cofounder of the popular Sales Hustlers group on Facebook, where his confidence-building messages like “Your imperfection is your perfection” inspire thousands. Hays is also co-organizer of Hustle & Grind Con – a convention taking place this October in Orlando aimed at inspiring critical changes in the industry from the top down.
In our recent conversation, Hays shared tips from lessons he’s learned about the importance of cultivating and protecting true leadership at your dealership.
1. If you find them, keep them.
True leaders might be harder to find than you think, according to Hays. He says that successful sales consultants often get promoted to managerial positions, but good managers aren’t necessarily good leaders, and this is the number one thing hurting the industry. Just because they can sell, and just because they can manage, doesn’t mean they can train, lead, and inspire.
Like charisma, some people are just born with the ability to lead, Hays says. He uses the analogy of the guy or girl in high school whose arrival at any event literally got the party started.
“You need that one person in there who really knows how to talk to people,” he says. “One who knows how to get the best out of them, knows how to squeeze that little bit of juice out even when you think that person is done. This is what is lacking at most dealerships.”
And although some people can be taught leadership skills, not everybody can, so once you find a true leader, do everything you can to bring them in and keep them.
2. To encourage leadership from within, encourage your staff to be themselves and develop their natural skills.
Embrace strengths, and be mindful that you’re not shooting yourself in the foot by guarding against true leaders at your dealership.
“Some are scared of the upcoming talent,” Hays says. “When you get people in high leadership positions who aren’t true leaders, they’re afraid of the true leaders who join their company because they feel like their own job is threatened.”
That talent will often leave the dealership, looking for one where they can thrive, he says.
Hays’ own leadership skills emerged when he embraced his skills of teaching and inspiring, which got translated into making short educational videos for sales consultants that soon gained a huge following.
“People told me to do walk-arounds, and make videos selling to customers,” he says. “But when I followed my own instinct, to create value for sales people instead of customers, that’s when I discovered that what I really wanted to do was help people.”
Hays went on to cofound Sales Hustlers on Facebook, which expects nothing from its 8,500 members except for them to grow, learn, inspire, and teach.
3. Lead by example: Hustle.
Hustling, according to Hays, has nothing to do with the hours you keep – how early you get up, how many hours you put in, etc. – and everything to do with giving it all you’ve got.
It’s also not about competition or comparing one person to another. Hays says that his competition is only himself and his work ethic.
“Sure, I’m going to have bad days, but for the most part I just want to know, ‘Did I perform at my top level today?’ Hustling means always doing your best, always growing, always improving.”
This ethic tends to be infectious with and between staff, and inspires leadership traits to emerge.