Why do some fleet managers last longer in their positions than others? Longevity is important, because if you want to be a great fleet manager, you need “time in the saddle.” I’ve discovered that longevity is the secret to being exceptionally good at fleet management. So, back to my opening rhetorical question: What is the secret to longevity in fleet? Based on my conversations and observations over the years, there are four key factors: flexibility in the face of change, a desire to be a lifelong learner, the ability to have an open mind, and the management skills to be a team player.
Strong Survival Skills: Flexibility & Adaptability
There is one truism in life: Nothing stays the same. A key trait contributing to fleet manager longevity is the ability to be flexible, especially in fluid situations, and to have the ability to easily adapt to change. You must be ready to change your professional direction, which may not always be the direction you anticipated or initially desired. All long-time fleet managers have demonstrated an ability to be flexible, even when management makes significant major decisions affecting the fleet with little to no input from them. Since fleet is ever-changing, you must be able to adapt to change, instead of fighting it. This professional orientation and philosophy will increase your fleet longevity quotient. Not only are long-time fleet managers able to adapt to change, they are willing to recommend change. A corollary trait is having a thick skin. No matter what you do, somebody won’t like it, and they’ll be sure to let you know — you need to roll with the punches.
Motivated to be Lifelong Learners
Long-time fleet managers demonstrate a continual desire to learn. By their nature, they love to learn new things and are motivated to do so. They are never complacent — to be complacent is the corporate kiss of death. They constantly try to improve their value to the company through continual education in developing new skills. Not only are they motivated to expand their professional skill set, they do not hesitate to share this knowledge with their colleagues and direct reports. However, much of a fleet manager’s true education is learned from on-the-job experience — the proverbial school of hard knocks. You will never gain this real-world experience unless you have longevity in your position.
Open-Minded to New Approaches
One important trait of long-time fleet managers is being open-minded. They listen and give serious consideration to new ideas, but have the wisdom and sensibility to temper ideas in the light of fleet pragmatism. But, the bottom line is that they are not threatened by new ideas. They recognize that, even if they are the resident in-house subject-matter expert, someone else may have a better idea. They are open to ideas regardless of the source, whether they are from suppliers, industry publications, drivers, or employees in other departments that interact with fleet. It is crucial to be open-minded, because fleet interacts with various departments and user groups. Being open-minded is being open to new opportunities. This goes beyond “thinking outside-the-box.” It means removing all internal limits to visualize a goal and be open to whatever the best path is to attain that goal. Open-mindedness is the incubator to innovative fleet management, resulting in new processes, metrics, and technological applications.
Manages as a Team Player
All great fleet managers, and most long-time fleet managers, are team players. Fleet managers deal with a diverse group of drivers, ranging from sales reps to mid-level managers to senior executives, with each group requiring a special finesse. Long-time fleet managers (typically) can accept criticism without getting angry or taking it personally. Similarly, long-time fleet managers are able to build consensus, which means getting others to work with you rather than against you. This means they listen more than they speak. They gather input from others before making decisions. They reach out and cultivate relationships with manufacturers, fleet service providers, and upfitters. More important, they maintain excellent internal relationships with all departments that interact with fleet and build long-lasting professional relationships. They are committed to a team approach of running a cost-effective and productive fleet that is responsive to user needs.
Thrives on Change
The fleet manager role has been changing over the past 20 years, as many corporations continue to reassess how they provide fleet management and other support services to their internal customer groups. However, while good fleet managers adapt to change, great fleet managers thrive on change. If you can do this, expect a long (and rewarding) career in fleet management.
Let me know what you think.