Advice: Leading Your Dealership Through Uncertain Times

A picture of Wendy Sheaffer

Economic hard times, a country in turmoil and the continuing fear of the pandemic have threatened businesses on many levels. Leading through difficult, uncertain times is tough even for the most experienced leaders. Though no one is immune to feelings of apprehension, there are ways to guide others through the tough times without crippling fear

Keep Employees Informed

Knowing what to expect helps us all feel okay, and it is human nature to seek the facts during a crisis. In organizations with poor communication, employees often feel as if they are on a dark, curvy road with no headlights, especially in scary times.

Do your best to keep them up to date. Tell employees what you know and how the business plans to navigate through the crisis. Your news might not always be good or popular, but honesty and transparency build trust, earn leadership credibility and create a sense of camaraderie within the company.

Employees need to stay positive but also must understand the realities. A leader is truthful while motivating the team to power through. Help your team make sense of the ever-changing conditions in the world.

Road map: Communicate information as soon as possible. Keep employees engaged and informed at the same time. Always deliver honest information, even if no one wants to hear it. 


Find Stability in Chaos

Uncertain times knock people out of their lanes. Your world might be just as shaky as your team’s but finding stability amid the chaos can help center everyone.

For example, the company’s values have not changed; those are road markers you can depend on. You may need to shift operations to manage the bumps in the road, but your core system is the same, and you know that route.

Lean on your core values to help make decisions, even when the road ahead is unclear. Depend on your values and industry expertise to guide you toward making the best decisions for your dealership.

Road map: Tough times create stress for everyone. Fight back using the stability of your core values and vision for the future of the company.


Be a Guide

Leaders are the ones out front guiding teams through an uncertain future. Stay focused and be positive; keeping morale strong is paramount. The book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage is an amazing story of survival and leadership. Shackleton understood the power of morale as he guided his 27-man crew through insurmountable obstacles in one of the harshest environments in the world.

As a guide, avoid hasty decisions and don’t take shortcuts. Guide your team using carefully crafted, short-term decisions that get the team over the rough, temporary patches.

A good first step is giving employees clear, actionable priorities to rally around. Second, listen to their fears and give them a platform for making suggestions. Make it clear that while you are guiding them, you are also walking beside them.

Road map: Stay positive, and always think about morale. Be mindful when making guiding decisions. Focus on the ways everyone can help.


Don’t Become Paralyzed

Being a good leader takes courage. And always keep moving ahead, because standing still allows challenges time to grow and your competition time to pull ahead.

Be ready to act and to make decisions, even when you do not have all the answers. Move forward with the information available and the data you can gather. Trust your expertise and the expertise of those around you.

Road map: There will never be a perfect solution amid uncertainty. Move forward even if doing so is daunting.


Stay United

People need a sense of community to feel secure. That is as true for reserved technicians as it is for outgoing salespeople. Leaders help employees feel safe within their professional community.

Having core values and a vision for the dealership can rally the team and create a sense of unity. Employees will stand ready to fight through the storms on behalf of an organization they are proud of.

Help your team come together in ways that make sense with your business environment and daily operations. Factor in your staff’s inherent needs and motivators. Some team members will want regular face-to-face interaction; they thrive in a strong social setting.

Other members will want community, but not necessarily in a way that requires them to engage face to face or in public settings. They want to feel connected to the team through goals, feedback and news from other departments.

Road map: Know your team so you understand how best to create unification. Encourage your team to understand the strengths of each person in the dealership; those strengths will shine through even in the darkest times.


Connect for Support

Along with uniting to move through hard times, connecting with employees on a deeper level is important. Beyond simply conveying facts, a leader must hold real conversations with employees to build trust.

Though a leader must always uphold a level of professionalism, you must also have a personal connection with employees and show them you are not immune to the ups and downs of difficult times.

While you want to be strong and positive for your team, you can also show your own vulnerabilities to create connections. Explain that you, too, are affected by uncertainty.

Acknowledging the pressure of hard times takes strength. In fact, admitting that you worry while staying strong, positive and focused on the business is a great way to model the action and positivity needed to get through difficulties.

Road map: Connection is a form of support. Be sure you are taking time to connect with each employee on your team.


Live with Ambiguity

It is not easy for anyone to live in an uncertain world. No one wants to drive blindfolded. But the truth is, we sometimes must deal with ambiguity. Life has unexpected detours, and no matter how much we plan, even with contingencies, something will usually throw us off course.

How many of us were thinking of a global pandemic a year ago? Strong leaders learn to deal with the unexpected. They examine the information available and move forward.

Some personality types find that easier than others but understanding your personal leadership style can help you work in ambiguity in a way that is as comfortable as possible.

Road map: Embrace ambiguity. Learn to leverage your personal strengths as a leader to move through uncertain times. Remember, everyone will look to you as their guide.


Consider the Long Term vs. Short Term

A strong leader never loses sight of the long-term goals while managing the immediate needs of any crisis. In uncertain times, leaders often must make some tough decisions in the short-term to keep the business moving forward.

Those decisions may include budget cuts, furloughs or even layoffs. Considering the impact and consequences of those decisions as it relates to employees and company sustainability is undoubtedly uncomfortable. It is a lot of weight to bear.

Road map: Maintain a clear view of what needs to happen to get through a crisis while preserving the long-term strategic visions for the company.



In addition to being an effective communicator, a strong leader must also be a good listener. Listen to your employees; they will need a safe way to express their concerns and emotions.

Reach out to your employees so they can tell you what they are thinking. Some employees will be comfortable addressing issues in an open forum; others will not. Be sure to give employees opportunities to use whatever channel they find most comfortable. You may hear some great ideas and strategies that leadership never considered.

Road map: Avoid doing all the talking and remember to listen. In times of chaos, everyone’s minds are in overdrive. Employees could be thinking of genius ways to help
the company.


Lead by Example

Leading through uncertain times is like heading out in an RV with no destination or GPS. Help your company, your employees and yourself by sticking to your core values and vision. As a leader, you can help your organization come out of uncertain times even stronger than it was before.

Stay positive, and don’t be afraid to ask for directions.

Author bio:

Wendy Sheaffer—Chief Product Officer at The Omnia Group, an employee assessment firm providing the power of behavioral insight to help organizations make successful hires and develop exceptional employees. Wendy is a subject matter expert in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. She works directly with clients and Omnia staff to provide a deeper understanding of how to use personality data to meet business goals. For more information, visit us at, email [email protected] or call 800.525.7117.

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