Leadership friction - The technician/manager relationship

March 25, 2022
While a number of other factors can contribute to a key employee leaving a company, the most common trigger we see is friction between an employee and their supervisor.

A common quote shared amongst the business community is that “people leave managers, not companies.” In a world where the competitive landscape surrounding the current technician market is at an all-time high, this quote should resonate with shops as much as, if not more than, any other industry.

While a number of other factors can contribute to a key employee leaving a company, the most common trigger we see is friction between an employee and their supervisor. Tension in this relationship can make day-to-day life so unbearable that it leads to a person just wanting to quit. While a manager’s view on technicians can be skewed by how much they are producing in the shop, at the end of the day they are just an individual craving a good quality of life like the rest of us.

It might just be me, but it feels like we’ve got more turmoil in the tech/manager relationship than most other industries do. I do think there are factors that contribute to why this happens and many of them are easily fixable. Others, not as much. I’d like to dive into them a bit more in-depth. Based on my experience in the business, here is my list of reasons I’ve seen for bad management.

Three reasons for poor management

1. The “Wayne Gretzky Effect”

Some of the greatest techs I’ve ever known have been terrible managers. In fact, I would venture to say that it’s more common for a tech that was a rockstar in the shop to struggle in their move to the office than the other way around. Oftentimes, what made them a great tech works against them in the office. I’m not saying there aren’t success stories because there are plenty of them. But I don’t think it’s quite as natural of a progression as we’d like to think.

I view this in a similar light as sports. Some of the best players we’ve ever witnessed have been terrible coaches. Wayne Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of all time but had just a .473 winning percentage as a coach. How can a person be such a great hockey player and such a bad coach? I think the answer comes down to the fact that he couldn’t put a team full of other Wayne Gretzky’s on the ice. Being that he was the most talented player to ever play the game, it was a struggle for him to be patient enough to adequately coach other players at a lesser skill level. I think we’re all guilty of getting frustrated when trying to teach somebody on a subject that comes naturally to us but is a struggle for somebody else to grasp.

There are laundry lists of athletes similar to Wayne Gretzky that have failed in leadership roles when their playing careers wrapped up. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Pete Rose, Bart Starr, and a number of others were legends when in the arena, but couldn’t make the jump to lead others.

The same can be said for techs who transition to the office. They transition from a role where they thrived and were extremely confident in a position where others rely on them to lead. On top of the normal changes in day-to-day responsibilities, the newly coined manager has to take on a leadership role that they may not have been exposed to in the past. It’s an incredibly hard transition to make.

I don’t write this to try and talk a good tech out of taking a promotion, but more to help a tech that is struggling with management understand what their manager might be going through. Depending on the person, it can be a really stressful transition and there are times when that pain gets pushed off onto you. What might be even worse is when a person takes the promotion, realizes they hate it but views going back into the shop as a demotion. It forces the manager to stay in a role they don’t fit and makes their life a living hell.

This obviously isn’t every situation, but I’ve seen enough of them to know that it’s really common. As a tech, take time to understand the situation and the pressure that your service manager or supervisor might be under. I am a believer that most people don’t intend to be mean, but the stresses of internal and external pressures can get to anybody.

2. Inadequate training

Oftentimes, in the service business, managers are thrust into a role with no preparation for the role they are about to take on. As business leaders, I think we often look for our internal talent to grow into leadership roles. It’s easy to look at somebody who is great at their job and think that it’s going to easily translate into a bigger role. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, and it’s been unfair to the manager that I promoted.

Similar to the Gretzky effect, not being trained on the necessary skills to do an entirely different job can result in a lot of frustration. That frustration can be passed along to the new manager’s direct reports, making life miserable for everybody. It’s understandable when they don’t have any type of training in organizing and leading an entire department.

On the other side of this, many techs don’t take the initiative to prepare on their own for that jump in responsibility. We have a tendency to be overconfident in our own skills and this can truly bite us in the backside. We overestimate our own skills while underestimating the work needed to put in to become a quality leader.

Technicians can smell this from a mile away and, as somebody who has been in charge of quite a few service departments, can have the same feeling as a shark sensing blood in the water. Rumblings of the new manager’s incompetence start spreading throughout the shop, and it quickly turns into a “me versus them” scenario for the manager. Not fun!

3. Skill requirement

There are also times when a person just doesn’t have the right personality to fit a different role. It takes a different skill set to be a great technician versus a great manager. Some people are fortunate enough to have both. Others struggle to come to terms with the fact that it might not be a fit.

Again, it’s unfortunate when people learn this and some come to this understanding easier than others. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that people understand this upfront as we all have weaknesses. It’s a great thing! New and aspiring managers should focus on improving these skills ahead of time.

How techs can deal with management issues

We’ve gone through the main reasons why we see managers struggling to make the transition from the shop to the office. So, what’s a person to do when they are on the other side of this? What if you’re a technician that is struggling to work with somebody that has been put in a position to fail?

It can be a miserable situation to be a part of. I’ve personally been on that side. Working my tail off in the shop, only to find that my manager wasn’t interested in my growth or developing whatever potential I had. It can kill confidence, and make you dread going to work in the morning. To say it’s not ideal is an understatement. With that being said, I do think there is hope.

Firstly, I think you need to really take into account what the manager might be going through. Does he or she fit into one of the categories that I went into detail with above? If so, don’t jump so fast to the conclusion that they are trying to make your life miserable. They may very well be struggling in their own right, and it’s critical to understand this. It’s easy to think that they are sitting up in the office, screwing off playing games on their computer.

In reality, they are trying to get invoices straightened out and talking to upset customers. On top of that, they could be dealing with issues caused by one of your peers. Dealing with real-life situations isn’t easy. Keep this in mind, and try to cut them some slack.

Another effective strategy to use when working with a difficult boss is to check your attitude. It’s easy to get down and rebel against somebody that’s not treating you fairly. While sulking about how you’re being treated can be easy, I’d recommend changing your mindset. Life’s too short to dwell on stupid things. Focus on things you can control.

In the book Extreme Ownership, written by Navy Seals Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, they talk extensively about taking ownership of your shortcomings. Throughout the book, it constantly stressed the need to continue asking what more you can do. Don’t pass the blame, and look at yourself in the mirror. Are there opportunities for you to improve and make your supervisor’s life easier? Be honest with yourself because I’m guessing there are lots of ways you could make the lives of those around you easier. This is something that I’m constantly working on and, Lord knows, I’ve got a long way to go.

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the book Extreme Ownership.

The Dichotomy of Leadership

A good leader must be:

Confident but not cocky;

Courageous but not foolhardy;

Competitive but a gracious loser;

Attentive to details but not obsessed by them;

Strong but have endurance;

A leader and a follower;

Humble not passive;

Aggressive not overbearing;

Quiet not silent;

Calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotions;

Close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge.

Able to execute extreme ownership, while exercising decentralized command.

A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove.

This article was originally published on WrenchWay.com. 

About the Author

Jay Goninen | CEO

Jay Goninen is the co-founder and president of WrenchWay and the founder and president of Find A Wrench. Goninen started working in his family’s independent repair shop at the age of nine and has worked in the industry ever since. He started his professional career as a technician and then moved into management roles within the automotive and diesel industries. Goninen is the host of the Beyond the Wrench podcast and the WrenchWay Weekly YouTube show.

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