Why it pays to be likeable

Why it pays to be likeable

driveJohnson’s has been established since 2005. The company has grown from just myself to over 350 instructors across the UK. During that time, I’ve seen some colourful instructors and a few dull instructors.

We’ve taken on instructors in the past that have have every credential to their name and also taken on those trainees or just qualified instructors. Often the newly qualified instructors and trainees don’t get any complaints and the instructors with the ORDIT, Fleet, ROSPA award etc. get the complaints. How does that work? It should be the other way round.

Here are a few examples:

Rob Bostridge

6 months on trainee licence
42 pupils
0 complaints

Robert Lordan

6 months just qualified
34 pupils
0 complaints

Paul Reilly

2 months
12 pupils
0 complaints

Pete Spiller

6 months on trainee licence and 6 months qualified
41 pupils
0 complaints

As you can see above, Pete Spiller who is now qualified and teaching driving lessons in Bedford, had 0 complaints even while he was a trainee instructor!

These guys should really get complaints as they are new and you would think they are more likely to make mistakes and rookie errors. They don’t though, for one simple reason – they are likeable people!

In any working industry, it pays to be nice. Whether you’re a school teacher, administrator or a car salesman, you will always do better in your job if you are likeable and nice. Let’s look at a car salesman as an example.

We have all bought a car and the usual requirements we are looking for when we are ready to purchase are:

  • Do you like the car?
  • Is the price right?
  • When can you have the car?

If these boxes are all ticked, many of us still walk away and carry on looking around for a bit longer. However, how many of you have bought the car there and then because you like the salesman and you trust what they are saying? I know I have.

Some of you may be reading this thinking, “well that doesn’t apply to me.” So my next question is, have you ever bought a car of a salesman you didn’t like and trust?

Hopefully you see my point now.

The morale of the story above is that it pays to be likeable and nice.

Like anything in life nobody always wins; footballer Lionel Messi loses, the best car salesman doesn’t seal every deal and as an instructor you will lose pupils.

It’s how you react to losing a pupil which will determine whether you stay the same or improve, become the best and ultimately earn more money.

Many instructors blame the pupil with the following reasons: pupil has no money, attitude is wrong, thick as s#*t, always cancels, no shows etc.

Don’t think you’re the only instructor receiving these pupils, this happens to every instructor when they start out, the difference is it happens less and less to instructors that have consciously or unconsciously decided to self evaluate and improve.

No show

When I was teaching full time, I would often turn up to someone’s house to do their lesson and they weren’t in.

I would call them, then send them a text.

The classic reply was, “sorry I was up all night being sick.”

Which text would you send?

TEXT 1: Did you not think to let me know you couldn’t make today’s lesson out of common courtesy. You’ve wasted 2 hours of my time.”

TEXT 2: Sorry to hear you’re not well. That’s a shame I was looking forward to your lesson. When are you next free for a lesson?

Text 1 has gained absolutely nothing. The likelihood of the pupil paying for the lesson is almost zero, you’ve lost them and they’ve probably told their mates you’re a *@#?@#*.

Text 2 means you can get them in for another lesson. Once they are in the car, it’s worth politely reminding them about the cancellation policy. Perhaps say something on the lines of “I’m not going to charge you for the last lesson you cancelled, although the office have been on my case about it. I’ve managed to palm them off, but probably won’t be able to do it again. So if you need to cancel or if you’re feeling remotely ill that you think you might not be able to make the lesson – let me know with 24 hours notice please, as I really don’t want to charge you.

I could fill your gaps with 24 hours notice easily as I’m so busy. Most driving schools ask for 48 hours, so the office are fairer than most companies out there.

Wrong attitude pupil

Years ago I taught a pupil called Wayne. His brother ‘Daniel’ who was a lovely guy recommended Wayne to me for driving lessons in Bedford.

Wayne had committed many criminal offences in his early days and I see he’s still been misbehaving 10 years on.

Wayne was a challenging pupil who I had to tactfully teach to drive. He had been driving illegally for years and would often challenge myself on certain roundabouts saying you could do it his way and pass.

Many instructors would say, “this is how you do it, if you don’t like it – find someone else.”

However, I put Wayne’s mentally down to not trusting many people in his life in general.

I gained his trust by saying things like, “you’re a good driver, Wayne, and If it makes you happy we can do that roundabout your way for the rest of your life but if you get it on your test, I can tell you for free on that particular day – you won’t be happy.
If it helps, I can ring the test centre manager now, put it on loud speaker and ask him which lane is required for the roundabout to go straight ahead.”

Of course, we didn’t end up calling the test centre and he then trusted me. In fact, the more he trusted me, the more we got along and everyone was a winner. He passed first time and I got paid without getting a black eye.

When you teach a pupil with a terrible attitude, you can either go into battle with them or you can bite your tongue and think before you speak.

Before you say something or reply to their terrible attitude think,
“what have I got to gain and what have I got to lose?”

Unfortunately, you’re probably not going to share the same views and opinions as most 17-18 year olds in the UK. So you can keep saying my way or the high way but you won’t be winning financially like other open minded instructors, thinking before they speak.

What makes a likeable instructor?

Agile personality

Like in the Wayne pupil example above, we didn’t share similar lives, ambitions or general outlook on life – but we got along.
I didn’t condone his past, but I didn’t talk about it or encourage him to tell more.

In the interests of getting paid, I didn’t argue with him when he challenged me, in fact, I backed down and said we could do it his way and offered if he wanted me to speak to the test centre manager to double check that my way was correct.

The more agile you are with your clients and customers there is a greater chance you will retain them in any walk of life.

Try to find common ground with your pupil by asking simple questions when the time is right.
If you say, “I love football, what sport do you follow?” and they say “I’m not a football man, I like Rugby.” It’s become a dead conversation and that’s a sour start.

If you say, “do you follow any sports?” and they respond with, “yes I play Rugby” then even if your knowledge about Rugby is limited you could show an interest and ask what position they play, how long have they been playing etc.


This often comes with time and success. You can’t expect your pupil to trust you fully after 1 hour. However, once they start picking up the subjects fairly quickly, they will begin to trust you more and more.
But what if they don’t pick up the subjects fairly quickly?
They are sort of entitled to doubt you, right?

Would you doubt your kitchen fitter if he was taking ages to fit your new kitchen?

This is when you need to self evaluate. If all of your pupils are learning slowly then it’s you. If this is one pupil out of 30 that is learning slowly, it’s possibly the pupil. Don’t blame the pupil and tell them they are unfortunately slow.

What have you got to gain and what have you got to lose?

Help the pupil understand why it’s taking them slightly longer, try different ways of teaching them to overcome the problem, offer them a pupil’s number that you trust to speak highly about you that was in a similar position. Even if they are learning slower than normal, you can, if you put your mind to it, find a way of getting most of these pupil types to trust you.

Someone who isn’t over opinionated

If your pupil loves going to Benidorm for a family holiday and you can’t stand Benidorm, keep your opinion to yourself.

Remember, your pupil is a paying customer. Think before you speak, what have you got to gain by saying you can’t stand Benidorm it’s full of chavs and low lives.

Another example:

If your pupil says after 1 hour of driving they want to pass quickly like their mates at school, try not say “your mates are probably lying and there’s no way you’re passing in 20 hours.”

What have you actually gained by saying that? You’ve potentially lost a customer.

Consider saying, “I love your ambition, it’s a bit hard to tell you how many hours you’re going to need just 1 hour in, but I will defiantly be able to give you a better answer in the next lesson. Once we get to 10 lessons we will assess where you are and if you’re ready to book your test. How does that sound?”

What have you gained? By being positive your pupil has been given hope and will therefore carry on paying you. After 10 lessons there is a high chance they would have realised for themselves that they are not ready and will probably forget to ask about booking their test.

Happy go lucky

Obviously shouting is a no, no.

As difficult as your day might have been, try not to let it affect your next pupil’s lesson. Be positive, happy and optimistic rather than negative, miserable and pessimistic. You won’t find many 17-20-year-olds that want to learn with the latter character. If you are the latter character, check your partner isn’t cheating on you as well – as they won’t hang around forever with a miserable/negative person.

If you’ve had a bad week and had 3 test fails on the trot don’t tell your pupil. If you’ve had 3 passes on the trot in one week, let them know.

Everyone wants to learn with a winner, don’t they? So be confident, happy and start developing a winners arrogance that gives your pupils the confidence that they are learning with a winner!

Lastly, make yourself sound busier than you might actually be – all established driving instructors do it down at the test centre, it’s an ego thing I think. They make out they are rammed and that they are earning £35 an hour etc. when actually they are probably quiet or just ticking over and charging the going rate for the area £25.

Set goals and objectives

We have all been guilty of driving around for 1-2 hours with no major goals or objectives. Correcting faults as you go along is okay, but at the end of the lesson it’s difficult to actually pin point what was covered and what was achieved. Pull your pupil up from time to time for 1-2 minutes and set them a little goal like “I want you to do the next 5 roundabouts correctly with zero serious faults, if you do that well then your little treat is we will move onto Parallel Park.”

It’s simple, but keeps the lesson interesting. Little carrots need to be dangled.

When the pupil has achieved your mini objective, they are happy and feel like they have achieved something.

Re-inventing yourself

This doesn’t apply to everyone but it probably will every 10 years.
To be successful in any business you have to re-invent yourself every 5, 10, 15 years.

If you don’t, you get left behind with the times.

For example, in order for Cristiano Ronaldo to continue playing at the highest level, he has had to change his game. He used to be a player who would receive the ball outside of the 18-yard box and would often dribble past several players. As he’s got older he’s naturally lost some of his speed, fitness and ability to recover.
It’s been shown statistically his attempt to dribble past players has lowered considerably and his overall position in the pitch is further up the field (in and around the box).

He hasn’t fluked this change, he has acknowledged his age and changed the way he plays. He’s still extremely effective.

During the early Take That days, Gary Barlow never got the recognition he fully deserved. He was the song writer and the best singer. However, he was overweight and was not the best looking guy in the group. So when Take That split up, he went on his own and pretty much failed.

In 2011, he became an X Factor judge. A much slimmer and sophisticated look meant Gary’s target audience became over 30s.
By changing the way he looked physically and the way he dressed, he is now considerably more likeable and ultimately more wealthy.

Justin Bieber – this boy’s target audience were young girls under 18. That’s never going to last forever as he gets older. I’m guessing someone in his management team has told him to re-invent himself.
His image attracts 18-30-year-old women now and his music has also changed to suit men and women between 20-35.
If he carried on with the same music and targeting the under-18 audiences, he wouldn’t be as wealthy as he is now.

How does an instructor reinvent themselves?

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