Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature in which I share stories, insights, and reflections about business and life.
The other day I was about to tap my secret code into my garage door key pad when I noticed the most beautiful moth I’ve ever seen. It was perched right next to the key pad. At first, I thought it was a butterfly because it was so large and so pretty. I’d always thought of moths as second class to butterflies, but a close friend set me straight when I showed him the picture.
My moth turned out to be an Atlas Moth and I’ve included his picture to show you how impressive he was. In the picture, you’ll see two of several characteristics that determine its “mothness”: featherlike antennae and wings spread rather than closed when at rest (not flying).
So what does this have to do with this Up Your Business article? Well, as I read more about moths and butterflies, I saw a parallel between how they develop and how we develop into what we become. According to what I read, both species start as caterpillars, spin cocoons, go through a metamorphosis, and shed their cocoons to become their ultimate self: butterfly or moth.
Likewise, at conception, we all started out in the same manner and that led to our births. Ultimately, after going through our own unique series of metamorphoses, we became what we are.
Unlike the moth and butterfly, our lives aren’t shaped by just one metamorphic event, but rather by many experiences or metamorphic episodes… some good and some bad. You’ve probably heard someone say that we’re a product of our environment. Since our environments are constantly changing, throughout our lives we’re repeatedly shaped and reshaped.
THE NARRATIVE WE LISTEN TO SHAPES US
For generations, experts have pondered the question, “Are leaders born or are they made?” I’ve concluded that, while some aspects of leadership are hereditary, absent environmental factors, would-be leaders couldn’t complete their metamorphoses into becoming leaders.
Perhaps the most powerful of many environmental factors is the narrative you’ve listened to throughout your life. For instance, where do thoughts like “I can’t” come from? For many of us, the I can’t narrative rules over us because we believe it and ultimately the I can’t becomes I don’t or I won’t.
The narrative you listen to shapes the choices you make. The narrative sets expectations and determines your action steps that play out the narrative.
Because the narrative you listen to is so powerful and influential, you need to exercise great diligence in deciding whose narrative you’re going to trust. That isn’t an easy task. At one time or another, we’ve all been recipients of good counsel and victims of bad counsel. The better we become at discerning the trustworthiness of the person providing our narrative, the better the resulting experience.
MY FIRST CAREER ADVISOR
To graduate from the college I attended, at the end of my senior year, I had to take an oral exam. The heads of the Economics and Business department administered my exam, during which they ask me questions relative to my ec/bus major.
It wasn’t as much a test of my knowledge as it was about my ability to think on my feet and provide thoughtful responses that I could support with facts. In other words, they wanted me to demonstrate my grasp of the broader concepts of my major.
After the exam, the chairman took me aside for a brief counseling session. First, he told me that I’d passed the exam and asked me if I intended to continue for a Masters degree.
I told him I was considering it, to which he offered this advice: “I’d strongly recommend that you pursue a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) rather than Business Administration (MBA). Based on your personality profile and things you said in your exam, I don’t think you have the ruthless, go-for-the-jugular mindset that’s needed to succeed in business. Public administration doesn’t require that, and you’d be better suited for a role in government.”
I remember my thoughts as if it was yesterday. While I didn’t say so to him, I rejected his opinion completely. His statement provided me with the motivation I needed to prove him wrong and to further prove that ruthlessness isn’t a necessity for business success.
Of course, looking back over 40 years, I realize that he wasn’t only wrong, but he was also ignorant. He was ignorant of what it really means to be “in business.” He’d probably never worked in business and was basing his opinion on what he’d read in textbooks or learned as a student in the classroom. I wonder how many other young students had received his flawed advice.
YEARS LATER: ROLE REVERSAL
In 1992, I began my speaking and writing career with ATRA. In the beginning, I frequently visited the ATRA home office in Oxnard. On one of those visits, a young man who was one of the Technical Hotline superstars asked if I would be willing to speak with him privately. We stepped out back for our conversation to gain the privacy he wanted.
He told me that ATRA was offering him the position of Technical Director. Of course, my immediate response was to congratulate him. But he stopped me short by saying, “I’m not sure I can do the job. I’ve never managed anyone or for that matter, anything. I’ve only worked as a transmission technician, rebuilder, and now on the hotline and teaching tech seminars.”
Furthermore, he was concerned about how it would be to go from being one of the guys in the tech department to suddenly supervising them. What would his peers think and how would they act toward him?
I was taken by his sincerity, and I silently prayed for wisdom as I considered how to respond. I offered this reply. “The very fact that you’re not jumping into this opportunity and that you’re humble enough to question your ability to do a good job tells me that you’re a leader. Great leaders are humbled by the responsibility of their roles.
You’ll be a fine leader and this is likely just the beginning for you. I think you should accept the offer. If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.” I gave him a list of books to read about management and leadership, and suggested some seminars to attend to help him develop his leadership skills.
He ended up accepting the job and continued to develop as a leader. In fact, he did a tremendous job as ATRA’s Technical Director.
If that was the end of the story, it’s a great story. However, Dennis Madden went on to become and still is the CEO of ATRA. He’s led the Association through transitional struggles brought on by the ever-evolving economic and technical aspects of our industry. Under his dynamic leadership, with the support of the ATRA Team and its Board of Directors, today ATRA stands strong and proud.
Dennis has emerged as a model leader that other leaders look up to because he possesses a powerful and critically important leadership trait. He demonstrated that trait during our first conversation and he’s continued to develop it over the years since. It’s what leadership experts call emotional intelligence. This trait distinguishes great leaders from good leaders.
According to the Harvard Business Review, emotional intelligence is a combination of five skills that enable a leader to maximize their own and their followers’ performance.
These skills include:
- Self-awareness — knowing one’s strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and impact on others
- Self-regulation — controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods (being calm and steady in the storm)
- Motivation — relishing achievement for its own sake
- Empathy — understanding other people’s emotional makeup
- Social skill — building rapport with others to move them in desired directions
You don’t have to look very hard to see that Dennis has a high degree of emotional intelligence. Just ask any of the members of the ATRA home office team.
I believe Dennis’s humility drives his success. The gravity of his role in serving our industry and empowering his team of professionals is humbling to him. This is contagious and the whole team has caught it.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
How important is the narrative? That day back in 1992, Dennis could have sought the advice of any number of persons, and they might have advised him differently. Note that I said differently… I’m not saying one way is right and the other wrong. The narrative that they listen to would have directed their advice. Someone else might have said, “Dennis, if you’re not confident, maybe you’re not the right person for the job.”
I’m not sure why Dennis picked me, but I thank God he did and I believe God gave me the words to say. Just think what we would have missed if Dennis hadn’t taken that promotion.
Like butterflies and moths, we evolve into what and who we are. Unlike them, we continuously evolve as the narratives we listen to shape our lives. This is critically important for three reasons:
- We must carefully choose whose narrative to listen to and whose to reject. This usually starts with wisely choosing whom to ask.
- We must humbly perform our roles as leaders, always being impeccable with the narratives we give to those we lead.
- After all, the narrative we listen to determines our self-image, our beliefs, our expectations, and our action steps.
It’s probably a good thing that there’s nobody messing with the narratives of butterflies and moths. Imagine if moths heard the narrative I had for them, “Oh, you’re just a moth; you’re not as pretty as butterflies.” Moths and butterflies don’t know and, frankly, don’t care… they just are. Rather cool what we can learn from nature; isn’t it?
Share Your Stories
If you’ve personally experienced a weird or unusual customer dispute and wouldn’t mind sharing it to help your industry, please contact me. You just tell me the story and I’ll do all the heavy lifting to write it.
We can make it an article about you, or you may remain anonymous. The main thing is we want to share stories that will help others avoid similar problems. Call me at 480-773-3131 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Thom Tschetter has served and educated our industry for nearly four decades. Up Your Business topics come from Thom’s years of experience as a speaker, writer, and business consultant, as well as from his in-the-trenches experiences at his own, award-winning chain of shops.
He calls on over 30 years of experience as a speaker, writer, business consultant, and certified arbitrator for topics for this feature column.
Thom is always eager to help members of our industry and continues to be proactive in pursuing ways to improve your business and your life.