Auto Shop Coaching Blog

The Surprising Secret of the Influential Leader

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.George Bernard Shaw

Jimmy Johnson was the head football coach of the Dallas Cowboys from 1989 through 1994.  He had a reputation for being a no-nonsense, disciplinarian who was tough on his players.

Falling asleep during one of his meetings was considered a “career-limiting move.”  Everyone knew this.  Everyone, except for a backup linebacker named John Roper.

During a recent interview, Johnson was reliving the story from the 1993 season where he observed Roper taking a nap during a film session, and immediately cut him from the team.

The reporter asked the coach what he would have done if he observed, Troy Aikman, his future hall of fame quarterback, sleeping during a film session.

His answer was classic, “I would have walked over to him, grabbed him by the shoulder, looked him directly in the eye, and said, ‘Troy would you please wake up?’

Coach Johnson’s answer is an indication that he possessed the surprising secret of the influential leader:  A flexible approach. He knew the difference between the route and the destination.

The Route vs The Destination

I learned the difference between the route and the destination yesterday as I was driving to the office.

As I was pulling out of my driveway, I programmed the ATI office address into my GPS and noticed that I was scheduled to arrive on time!

After driving for 15 minutes, I saw that my navigation was directing me down a different route than what I was used to.

As I took the suggested path, I turned on the radio and discovered that there was a major accident on my original path.  By changing my route, I was able to arrive at ATI on time.

And then it hit me.  The difference between the route and the destination is that the destination is fixed, but the route is flexible.

Coach Johnson’s destination was the Super Bowl, and he was willing to change his normal approach to get there.   What are you willing to change to get to your destination?

Flexible Communication

By now you’re probably thinking, “So how do I use a flexible approach at my shop?”  The critical place to start is with your communication style.

When communicating you should always consider the following four personality “birds”: The eagle, peacock, owl, and dove.

Individuals with the eagle personality, are focused on results, are competitive, and impatient. When communicating with an eagle, be sure to get to the point quickly and to include the specific bottom lines results that can be achieved from taking the desired action. Words like accomplish, achieve, superior, and successful, resonate with the eagle.

Peacocks are outgoing, assertive, and have a dislike for the details.  Using words like simple, fun, and quickly are helpful when communicating with peacocks.

Owls are cautious, detailed oriented, and prefer consensus when making decisions.  Showing the details in writing and emphasizing the specifics is helpful for the owl. Words like studies, facts, research, and data are useful when speaking with this personality type.

Doves are likable peacemakers who want to avoid confrontation and unnecessary risk. Words like easy, simple, and hassle-free, work well with doves.

The average leader communicates with everyone the same way.  The influential leader uses a flexible approach that’s tailored to the person receiving the communication.

This flexible approach applies when speaking with employees and customers. For more information on the four personalities, contact your coach to learn how to analyze the Wonderlic test.


So, there you have it. Jimmy Johnson won two Super Bowls as a result of embracing a flexible approach. What are the possibilities for you, if you embrace flexibility?

P.S. Looking to implement flexible communication style at your next team meeting?    Email to receive the latest Four Birds Checklist.
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Eric, the Accountability Coach, is an Executive Coach at ATI and has been coaching since 2009. Eric came to ATI having managed over 60 different automotive repair facilities and having supervised over 500 employees at a given time. He loves seeing members progress beyond what they thought was possible for them and seeing members improve their shop to the point where they can leave for weeks at a time, and come back to a business that's better than when they left.