70: Leaders With Heart Empower Their People To Do Their Best Work

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Larry Sutton, President of RNR Tire Express. Larry enlightens the listeners with his anything-but-straight leadership journey. Not only that, he also highlights the importance of transparency and empowerment. 

Key takeaways:

  • Don’t miss the learning that takes place in the journey.
  • Hire people smarter than you.
  • Show you care for your people by demonstrating it in your actions. 
  • When you’re not transparent, nothing else works. Whatever else you say doesn’t matter. Credibility is everything.
  • If all of your people agree with what you say 100% of the time, then you’ve hired the wrong people.
  • Empower your people to challenge you when you are going off course.
  • Hire people with an open mind.
  • Focus on serving instead of service.

There are so many nuggets in this episode! Also, his mesmerizing voice is a bonus! So, don’t miss this one.

Larry Sutton is the Founder and CEO of RNR Tire Express. Raised by a single mom in a one-bedroom duplex, Larry Sutton learned from an early age that if he wanted something, he needed to work hard to earn it.  

In 1981, he became a business partner in Champion TV & Appliance Rentals and helped “grow it into one of the most admired RTO businesses in the Southeast.” In 2006, he received the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations Lifetime Achievement Award. For the third year in a row, RNR was listed as the No. 1 in category for wheels and tires in Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2018 Franchise 500 list among several other prestigious accolades.

Larry has four children—two boys and two girls, and his brother, Steve, is a partner in the Ocala RNR store. Larry is an avid reader and partial to thrillers written by Brad Thor. He plays golf, likes to attend concerts, but his main interest is RNR.

Never Ending Learning

Learning is the key element of leadership. There are things that you learn and there are things that you re-learn, because you knew them before, but you quit on doing them.

A smart guy once told me that he likes to learn every day. If he doesn’t, he knocks on the next-door neighbor, and when they answer, he would look at them and go, “Teach me something.”

When I sold my first business, I thought of playing golf, and I played every day since I have nothing else to do. After six months, I ended up hating it. Before, it was my fun getaway. It took me a while to figure out that I was missing the learning, and my relationships with my people. 

When I was growing up, my uncle said, “Son, you need to understand that in order to be truly successful, you have to hire people smarter than you.” – Larry Sutton #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Freedom To Disagree

We know we’re going to fail. But let’s fail fast and get it over it so that we can learn what we need to. – Larry Sutton #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I’ve often told my folks in staff meetings, “From time to time, I am going to say something stupid. I am going to have the wrong idea. Now, what I expect from you is to stand up, slap the crap out of me and tell me I’m wrong. Do not sit back and tell me I’m right, if you’re thinking I’m wrong.”

Oftentimes, I will get quite spirited disagreements. The reality is, if all of your leaders are agreeing with everything you’re doing, saying, or proposing, then you probably have the wrong people, or you have given them the wrong advice on how to work with you.

They are not truly empowered if that’s the case. If they’re not empowered, they wouldn’t grow to be the best they can be. So, it all goes hand in hand. If they don’t have the freedom to disagree, their empowerment will start chipping away. 

One of my early partners called me after opening four stores together. He said, “I thought you never wanted to grow.” I said, “Of course, We’ve already opened four stores! I want to grow.”

He said, “Well, that’s not going to happen, unless you stop managing four stores and start getting some managers to manage them. Look, you’re managing four stores. You’re not letting people do their job because you’re overseeing everything. You think you’re the only one that can do it right. That’s a big mistake.

Big Awakening

Realizing that I haven’t empowered anybody, but just over-lording and micromanaging was a big awakening for me. 

It began a journey of getting into people’s heads, talking to them and allowing them to actually manage other people while trying not to interfere.

I am passionate, and sometimes passionate overrides good sense. There are times when I’d probably blown up, especially in the early part of my leadership. 

I was too expectant of people’s dedication and I was not as much as in tuned with what they needed outside of work, especially time with their families.

But along the way, you’ll get it right. It just becomes natural. Some of your learning from early on becomes part of your natural leadership style. Early on, I was more of an admonisher and less of a teacher. But, becoming the teacher was a big part of my leadership journey. 

Listen to what your people are telling you. – Larry Sutton #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetCredibility is everything, all the way through. – Larry Sutton #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetYour people are going to make mistakes, but they’re going to learn from them. – Larry Sutton #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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