Leadership is not an innate trait or comprised in genetic makeup.

I like to ask F&I managers what are some of the toughest challenges they face. They usually answer with statements like:

  • How do I manage a sales force that has been given no discipline or direction by the sales manager on how to work with the F&I office?

  • I spend 65 hours a week working and find it very hard to unwind and have a productive family life. My spouse says it's the job or our marriage.

  • As the F&I manager I have the responsibility to manage the sales people, but not the authority to take action if I need to.

  • I'm not treated like a manager, I'm treated like everyone's clerk.

    When I ask sales people the same question I get answers like this:

  • It seems like every time I have a customer issue or need to speak to the business manager, he's busy with something else or on the phone.

  • Our business manager is a prima donna. The only time he gets out of his seat is to go to lunch.

  • Does the F&I manager really think I talk my customers into paying cash?

Our sales people have a much different view of the finance and insurance office than the F&I manager does. These differing opinions can and will have a negative effect on our sales process, which will result in poor customer satisfaction scores.

So how do you interrupt this pattern if these situations sound familiar? It starts with us in the finance office. We need to develop a balanced approach to how we manage our department and our lives. Leaders are not born, they are learned. Leadership is not an innate trait or comprised in genetic makeup. If anything, we are all born followers and have a fundamental need to be led. Those of us who understand it starts with “me” look at things not as they are, but how they could be. That's where leadership begins.

I have developed a list of traits that are fundamental to becoming an effective F&I leader. I call them, “The Six Tendencies of Productive F&I Leaders.” It is a balance approach of feeding our mind with the knowledge of the business of finance and insurance.

A business manger operates in a changing arena of products, lenders and laws. Many people do the job by only operating on the surface — these managers aren't effective F&I leaders. Unless you look past the surface to gain the knowledge to move to a higher level of leadership, you won't be successful. Remember, leaders don't see things as they are, but how they could be. Let's see how they could be.

Lead by example

An effective F&I leader says:

  • How can I help you sell the vehicle?

  • What can I do to get this deal bought?

  • What am I doing to train the sales people about F&I related issues?

Be positive

A positive mental attitude is essential to becoming an F&I leader. You've heard the old cliche, Is the glass-half full or is it half-empty? Well, which one is it? Do you say, “This customer has terrible credit, forget it.” Or: “This will be a challenge, but I'll do my best to get the customer financing.” Which approach do you think the F&I leader uses?

Having a positive attitude isn't something we are born with either. It's something we learn. What's the third word a child learns after da-da, and ma-ma. It's “no.” We start training our children to be negative right away. We are the biggest culprits of our negative thinking. This is because 80% of our self-talk is negative. We keep telling ourselves all day long “I can't” or “I'm not good at this” or “Things will never change around here.”

For the next week, do this exercise. Every time you start thinking of something negative, counter-productive or self-ridiculing, just block it out. Refuse to let the thought pass through your mind. Substitute that thought with something positive. This is the first step to learning to be a positive thinker. We have to re-program ourselves. Go ahead and laugh and don't do this exercise. You know, our society does need followers, too.

Trust other people

The F&I process is team-driven. We can't be effective if the sales department decides they want to work against us, and they won't work with us if we don't train them properly. If we don't train them properly, we can't trust them to do the right thing. It's a vicious cycle.

An F&I leader doesn't overreact to negative behaviors, criticism or human frailty. They don't pre-judge or stereotype. They don't hold grudges for past occurrences. They move on with life and understand temporary bad behavior doesn't mean the person lacks potential. An F&I leader is able to get the best out of people. They get this by being a team player, pulling their weight and trusting others to do their part.

Become a student

The effective F&I leader is always looking for ways to increase knowledge in his or her profession. They attend seminars, read sales related books, and most importantly, they seek out mentors that are good at their profession. They look to certification programs to further their knowledge of the F&I profession.

We, at The Vision of F&I Inc., developed what we call F&I Career Building to assist the F&I leader in this quest for knowledge. It gives the F&I manager a complete career-building plan. The 10-step plan outlines effective ways for goal setting, time management, conducting sales meetings, learning about laws and regulations in F&I, and improving sales ability.

Balance your life

Balancing one's life can be tough yet necessary in our occupation. Usually, we're the first one to arrive to work and the last one to leave.

But the F&I leader must balance a business, social and family life. They balance their desire of having a career with spending time with family and friends. They schedule family activities and make sure they keep their obligations (surely someone else can take care of a delivery now and then).

They have hobbies that they're interested in. They socialize with people of like motivations. The F&I leader saves some personal time for reflection. This can be done by listening to or reading something motivational. It can also be accomplished by simply reflecting from within. Put on some relaxing music every night before you go to bed. Go on vacations. And it doesn't hurt to exercise at least three times a week to prepare your body for your rigorous schedule.

Enjoy life

You can't be a leader if you don't enjoy what you do. Try not to worry about things you can't control. If your son or daughter didn't do well on a report card, dwelling on it isn't going to change the outcome.

The fact that it's half way through the month and you haven't made any money isn't going to change just because you worry about it. We all know that its counter-productive, but we do it anyway. So, get your son or daughter a tutor, be more supportive, draw a line under the last deal of your F&I control log and move on with life.

Being an effective F&I leader requires a great deal of effort at first, but it soon becomes natural.

Ron Martin is the author of the book “The Vision of Finance and Insurance” and a national sales trainer and consultant for automotive dealers. To learn more about his company, The Vision of F&I, Inc., or his book, visit www.thevisionoffandi.com