Have you ever noticed how employees, for better or worse, tend to take on the characteristics and habits of their bosses? If the boss treats them like idiots, they tend to do the same with the people that report to them. Or worse yet, that attitude carries over to the customer.

If the Big Kauhna doesn’t care what the dealership looks like, that’s just fine for the folks working in the trenches. It means they don’t have to waste a lot of time cleaning up after themselves.

It sometimes happens that an employee will care about the folks he works with, his customers or the appearance of the store far more than his boss. In those rare instances, that employee doesn’t usually last long. Inevitably he leaves, while the rest just stick around, content with taking home a paycheck.

Have you ever read the books, “You Win With People,” “The Power of Positive Thinking” and “How to Win Friends & Influence People?”

Note that, they weren’t titled, “You Win With Spreadsheets,” “The Power of a Positive Absorption Rate” or “How to Win Market Share & Influence Return on Assets.”

That’s because these time-tested best sellers aren’t about business balance sheets or financial rations. They’re about people, attitudes and leadership — dynamic components of all successful businesses. These are the real drivers behind financial performance and customer satisfaction.

At least that’s what Young’s Equipment and Madison County Implement — the 2009 Dealerships of the Year — believe. All Dealership of the Year finalists have hard financial and operating numbers to place them among the best farm equipment dealerships in North America. But, according to the panel of judges that selected the top dealerships, what set Young’s Equipment and Madison County Implement apart was their commitment to the “soft side” of their business — employees development.

As a business journalist, I’m more than a little leery about profiling a company when all the manager wants to talk about is “their people.” Pushing the soft side of the business can sometimes seem to be an easy way out for them. It might give them and their employees the warm and fuzzies, but it’s not always genuine, and almost always makes me wonder if they’re holding back on discussing real nuts and bolts issues for fear of divulging their business “secrets.” But that’s a topic for another day.

After spending time with these two dealerships, both Mike Lessiter and I came away believing that the dealership’s commitment to developing a team of top performers is what has moved them into the league of elite dealerships. Their financials are the result of the performance of strong staffs. But it doesn’t start there.

It’s the energy and enthusiasm of the top guys that set the tone for everyone else in those dealerships. It’s the work environment that breeds top performers. It’s hard to argue against the fact that an employee’s motivation is the direct result of his or her interactions with their boss.

It’s a case of highly motivated employees working in an environment that allows them to succeed. The late president Dwight Eisenhower put it this way: “Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.”

If motivation is an art, you need to be the artist. 

Originally published in 2009.