Ultimately, a successful automotive technician should be more of a control freak than a free spirit. Here's why.
Typically, control freak carries a very negative connotation. We've all known them. The expression suggests an insecure person who insists on having everything done his or her way. The person's perceived as intolerant of opinions or techniques that differ from theirs.
This personality type often is associated with the harsh saying, “It's my way or the highway!”
At the other end of the spectrum is the proverbial free spirit. This personality is perceived as very easy going. Often, this is the type everyone prefers as a co-worker or manager. Some people describe this person as being a live-and-let-live type.
My shop experiences and field work have convinced me to take a potentially contrarian stand here — I'll favor the control freak as the more-reliable automotive repair person.
Mind you, this person still has to be able to deal with several basic requirements to be a competent worker. Namely, he or she has to be able to take a certain amount of direction and be held accountable for decisions. And he or she has to be willing to hear alternative viewpoints and learn new techniques.
The worker who conscientiously tries to control the outcome of each and every operation seems much more likely to produce a mistake-free job that goes out of the shop and stays out.
Of course, fixed right the first time is the key to meeting consumers' expectations. In my potentially jaundiced view of a service department, the free spirit seems too inclined to make unqualified assumptions and take chances. Naturally, you're a hero when gambling on a repair procedure pays off. But when it doesn't, you and your crew look like a bunch of nervous amateurs.
For me, several phrases and/or expressions — usually spoken in the most nonchalant and confident manner—point to an excessively free-spirited technician. The first example is something akin to, “Go ahead and force it, it'll go in eventually.” This is moments before you hear a casting crack.
The second example may be, “I'm sure nothing fell into those uncovered intake ports. What could fall into that engine?” That's 30 minutes before the tech finishes assembling the engine. Then the steady knocking sound caused by a foreign object inside a cylinder is audible everywhere in the store.
A third example of Mr. or Ms. Live and Let Live's free thinking may be advice to an apprentice out back: “Nah, just keep tightening, it, kid — it'll stop leaking.” This is a moment before the hapless apprentice begins swearing a blue streak because he just stripped some threads in the engine.
Now, I have seen the service manager or shop foreman mistake the control freak for being anal retentive or something. To the contrary, the freak's being careful. This tech has seen countless shortcuts and assumptions gone awry, so he or she opts to control a situation rather than gamble with it.
For instance, this tech patiently covers exposed openings on an engine with duct tape or shop towels before taking a lunch break. In other instances, this tech pauses immediately when a part doesn't slide into place as it should. Instead of trying to force it, he or she disassembles the device, inspecting it for metal burrs, corrosion, gouge marks, etc.
Therefore, the control freak I describe habitually tries to control procedures and repairs to avoid complicating the work. Unlike the free-spirited cohort, he or she doesn't relish flirting with disaster.
In this business, the unknown and the variables can kill a repair job — not to mention age everyone by several years. At some point, I believe, a capable tech has to control those variables in order to make the most of his or her time and yours. Let me know your experiences on this topic.