Taylor Swift–why is an expert witness and training guy in the towing industry opening an article with Taylor Swift?  Because when Taylor Swift has a bad breakup or a problem with someone, she’ll write a song about it – and she’s been very successful with that approach.  I’m going to follow suit.  When I hear about or witness a bad situation, I’m going to write an article about it or maybe even a book–it’s what I do.  I’ll preface with the idea that I don’t want people to stop talking to me.  I keep things confidential, but I allow just enough information to get out, so people can learn from other’s mistakes.  I’m going to lay out a few scenarios where I had a “delayed epiphany,” and perhaps you can see the same things I did.  This all involves leadership, ethics, and integrity.

My most recent scenario occurred during and right after I gave a seminar built around my new book, “The Psychology of Staying in Business.”  I had a great class, learned some things, decided to make a few adjustments in my presentation, and got great interaction from several of the audience members.  When I started talking about how gossiping and complaining impacts your bottom line, one guy gave me great feedback about how he runs his business and how tightly he controls things like that. After that class, we talked some more, and he told me about the standards he holds his guys to and how he follows up with Facebook photos taken by the public to ensure his people do proper securement and adhere to road laws.

Fast forward to the next day, and we’re talking again – this time, we talked about heading home and the routes we’d take.  He explained that he knew lots of backroads and how to bypass all the scales on the main roads.  He explained that he’d bought several used trucks from quite a few states away from his home state (three, four, five states); he did the “backroad shuffle” to avoid scales and didn’t buy permits for moving an unlicensed truck on each occasion and didn’t use his DOT number or plate the truck ahead of time.  In at least three trips from as many as five states away.  I shook my head a bit as I wouldn’t handle things like that, but I also noted this guy’s penchant for excessive talking and “over-sharing.”

The epiphany hit me the next morning at about 5:00 a.m.–in fact, it woke me up.  For all this guy’s training, follow-up, demands, employee handbook signing, and holding employees accountable, I knew darned good and well that he’d told his guys this same story; I could tell that it was a practiced speech. He was bragging, and he was proud of himself for “running outlaw.”

Epiphany: Despite all that good talk, time, and effort with his crew, once he told them that story (as many as three times), his people knew that he wasn’t sincere about anything–not a thing!  In fact, his unintentional message was “you don’t have to do anything I say, since I don’t care about state laws, registration regulations, insurance requirements, or DOT rules.”  Especially since he’d bragged about running straight through from five states over.  You can’t do 1,400 miles straight legally, no matter what!

His time was wasted, his people lost respect, I’m sure; and more than anything, they now believe that the rules don’t matter since he bragged about not following them.  I would say to him, “When one of your guys takes a shortcut, and you ask yourself why, just remind yourself about the time you told that story.”

In 2011 in North Texas, I was training for a small company, and I ran a flatbed for police calls in addition to running a heavy.  The company had a Dodge 5500 flatbed, but I preferred the International 4700 although that one was special (I don’t know why.), it was far more capable, and the boss rarely went out in it.  With that said, I had a police call one Saturday night with a Nissan Maxima about 125 feet off the road.  The Dodge 5500 only had 75 feet of cable.  The International had 100 feet plus a 50-foot extra section with loops.  Once I got on scene and saw that I couldn’t get the car with what I had, I called the owner and asked him to bring out the International or the 35-ton heavy; I needed more cable.

The guy showed up and walked directly to me, avoiding the police officer. He asked me to position the International and do the recovery while he went and sat in the Dodge.  I thought that was odd, but after the recovery and getting the car loaded, the police officer left, and the owner told me that he’d drank half a bottle of Wild Turkey since 7 p.m.  It was 10:30 p.m.

Epiphany:  All the hours that guy and I sat and talked about where he wanted his business to go, and how he wanted his people trained, how professional he wanted his company to look, and then he drove a tow truck at probably a .25 or .30 blood alcohol content.  I made him get into the truck with me, took him back to the shop, and then drove my SUV out to get the Dodge.

In 2012, I was hired by a guy in Abilene, Texas to come in and run his company, train his people, do some marketing, and get his trucks on police rotation.  I jumped on the chance, perhaps a little too quickly, because I love Abilene and know the town well – I used to deliver pizza part-time when I was in the Air Force there back in the late 80s.  I relocated my motorhome to Texas from Washington only to find out that instead of 15 trucks in his fleet, there were 7 trucks on his lot, but only 3 ran, and only 2 were licensed.  His “crew” consisted of one full-time guy who’d had 8 DUIs and a part-timer who only knew rigging and had no driver’s license.

Of course, I was angry, but tried to make the best out of it.  Even after the local Volvo/Mack service manager told me that he wouldn’t let a truck come in on the hook from that guy even if they paid him to do it, I knew there was trouble.  I begged the guy, and he finally said he’d give me a try.

I got a call two days later for a loaded tractor/trailer just outside Sweetwater. It had an EGR issue and wouldn’t run. So, at a $250 hookup and $7.50 a loaded mile, it was a $587.00 tow.  I went out to start the 35-ton, and it wouldn’t start.  I ran back inside the shop to get the jump box, and the owner stopped me.  He said he was busy right then but wanted to be there when I started the truck so he could see if a light was left on or something to make the battery go dead.  I explained that I had a call RIGHT NOW and that I’d gotten him back in the door at Volvo.  He made me wait over 30 minutes because wanted to chew on somebody for leaving the lights on or whatever, and that was more important – to teach his guys a lesson!

You have already guessed how it played out.  There are three other companies in Abilene, so when Volvo called for an ETA, and the guy said he was waiting for something, Volvo called another company, and we lost the tow blowing our second chance at working with Volvo.

Epiphany:  Blaming someone and chewing them out was more important to this guy than reviving his failed business.  His leadership skills revolved around blaming and yelling instead of doing what was best for his company.  It takes a great deal to make me give up on someone or something, but there was just no helping this guy.

Even though the following would not make good lyrics to a Taylor Swift song, they will help you grow your business: Having integrity in all the areas of your business fosters employee respect, bolsters morale, and keeps you from replicating double standards in your employees’ work ethics.  Keeping the main thing the main thing also keeps your company moving forward not missing business because of misplaced priorities.  Having a desire to grow your business without a desire to grow your own personal life will end up in self-sabotage.   Successful tow companies are not just about towing successfully; they are about leadership, ethics, and integrity; and your leadership is demonstrated every day in your words and actions.  What are you demonstrating?