What does servant leadership look like and how can fleet managers implement this into daily operations? - Photo: Government Fleet

What does servant leadership look like and how can fleet managers implement this into daily operations? 

Photo: Government Fleet

Leading a fleet is more than just managing vehicles and schedules; it involves time and commitment to guide a team toward success. But what does servant leadership look like in this context?

During GFX 2024, Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator for the city of Columbus, Ohio, fleet management division, shared insights on how a servant leadership style fosters collaboration, trust, and a strong sense of community within the fleet industry. Reagan brought his own experience to highlight the transformative impact of prioritizing the team's needs, ultimately driving better outcomes for the entire organization.

The Concept of Servant Leadership in Fleet Management

Before discussing servant leadership, Reagan discussed fleet managers' responsibilities as public servants, including those to the general public, municipal leaders, and the individuals who work on the floor. "We're in an industry where you have the ability to affect change," Reagan emphasized.

According to Reagan, fleet managers should focus on being solution-conscious and not problem-focused.

Using an analogy, Reagan compared fleet managers to sausage makers. "Who here has ever seen it made?" he asked. "You are the sausage maker, and your administration doesn't want to see how you make sausage…They want results." 

Reagan pointed out that this analogy highlights the behind-the-scenes work that has to be done in fleet management in order to deliver outcomes efficiently.

Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator for the city of Columbus, Ohio, fleet management division, speaks during GFX 2024. - Photo: Elizabeth Stewart Photography

Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator for the city of Columbus, Ohio, fleet management division, speaks during GFX 2024. 

Photo: Elizabeth Stewart Photography

Responsibilities and Impact of Fleet Managers as Public Servants

Reagan shared a story about John King, a long-time colleague who exemplified servant leadership. Starting as a technician in Columbus, King rose through the ranks to become the assistant fleet administrator and later, the fleet director for Collier County.

Despite his demanding career, King also served his community as an ordained pastor, helping those in need and supporting his colleagues through personal hardships like the COVID-19 pandemic.

"That's what servant leadership looks like—doing without being asked," Reagan said.

This also applies within a fleet manager’s operation. Fleet managers need to be prepared for what is ahead and doing the extra work to know the fleet inside and out is critical for success.  

He recounted an interaction with a local school district seeking to buy fuel without knowing their consumption or potential savings. "If you don't understand your business, someone else will come in and tell you how to run it," Reagan warned. 

The lesson learned was that fleet managers must be proactive, knowledgeable, and ready to provide solutions based on solid data.

Seeking Guidance and Collaboration from Experienced Peers

Reagan noted that part of servant leadership is knowing when to ask for help so that the operation can succeed. He stressed the importance of not only getting help but learning from experienced peers within the industry. And by fostering mentorship and collaboration, veteran fleet managers can pass on invaluable insights to newer members.

But it all starts with reaching out to other fleet managers. 

“There isn't anything here that you'll experience that somebody hasn't already gone through,” Reagan said. “Get to know [other fleet managers]. Pick up the phone and call.”

Reagan recalled his own experience seeking out advice during several turning points for Columbus’ fleet. Planning to transition to compressed natural gas (CNG) for the fleet, Reagan turned to Paul Condran, the then-fleet services manager for the Fleet Services-Facilities Manager City of Culver City, California. This initiative began in 2010 and required building the necessary fueling infrastructure from scratch. 

With Condran’s help, the Columbus fleet was able to put together a plan for what they needed to accomplish the incorporation of CNG. Condran and his team showed them the essential questions that needed to be asked, such as “Should they own or lease the station?” and “Should they have a third party take care of the station or did they want to take care of the station themsleves?”  

They also helped the Columbus fleet create PM checklists and set them up so that they could teach their own team more about curve compressed natural gas. According to Reagan, they leaned on the other fleet’s knowledge for several years as they made the transition. 

When Columbus became a Smart City recipient, Reagan turned to David Worthington, fleet manager for the County of Santa Clara, California, to help with electrification. Worthington, who was the Sonoma County, California, fleet operations manager at the time, had already made considerable strides with his own fleet’s electrification and was able to give Reagan ideas on how to move forward in their own electrification journey

Reagan urged fleet managers to seek counsel from their peers and leverage the collective knowledge within the industry.

"There isn't anything we can't accomplish if we listen to our peers and work with our colleagues," he said, concluding that by adopting a servant leadership approach, fleet managers can foster a supportive, collaborative, and innovative environment, ultimately benefiting their teams, organizations, and communities.

About the author
Nichole Osinski

Nichole Osinski

Executive Editor

Nichole Osinski is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She oversees editorial content for the magazine and the website, selects educational programming for GFX, and manages the brand's awards programs.

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