Terry, commercial sales manager for a GMC truck dealership, told session 2B of the Leadership Development Lab,
“I fell in love with sports cars and began my career at age 18 in the early 1970’s, employed as a technician with a factory-owned British Leyland store. Before long I moved into the parts department and in time was hired away to be the parts manager of a Mazda dealership.
“Within eight months of taking this job, the owner sold the business to someone who already owned a Lincoln Mercury store. The new owner decided to combine the two franchises. I was asked to stay on to develop the Mazda business in the Lincoln Mercury store.
“My new boss was of short stature and was my first introduction to a true Napoleonic personality. One of the first things I learned in working with the newly combined staff was that the ‘Lincoln Mercury’ part of our dealership’s name was universally regarded to have a different meaning: ‘Little Monster,’ which was the staff’s nickname for the owner (and a pretty accurate portrayal).
“One of his hobbies was restoring old Packards, and I, being the new guy in parts, was asked to locate a dash trim piece for his current restoration project, a 1954 Packard.
“Great! I started my young career because of my love of sports cars such as Lotus, Jaguar, and Jenson, and now the well-named ‘Little Monster’ had me looking for a dash trip piece for a vehicle that was built before I was born and looked like a tank.
“I began calling parts restoration companies and wrecking yards all over the country, to no avail. Finally, exasperated, I found a guy in New Jersey who said he could probably help but he needed more information and proceeded to ask me a bunch of obscure questions about the vehicle. I had no idea and, in a moment of frustration, replied, ‘I don’t have a clue; let me ask the Little Monster and I’ll get back to you.’
“In that next moment a couple things changed for me. It started with a voice behind me, in very close proximity, like inside-my-shirt close. ‘Are you looking for me?’ reverberated in my left ear, and although my heart rate quickened, I had the distinct impression time had slowed down.
“I was embarrassed by my unprofessional comment and apologized. I knew right then that although the nickname was well ingrained with this company before I got there and used by what seemed to be everyone, my acceptance and usage of it was wrong and could have finished my career.
“In hindsight, there were two lessons I learned that morning, good lessons to learn early in my career. I have adhered to these from that time on, and will continue to do so. 1.) Never use negative or sarcastic nicknames at work. 2.) If it’s important to the boss, it’s important to me, even if it’s a tank part.
“The action I call you to take is think twice before belittling someone behind their back.
“The benefit you will gain is a positive reputation. People will respect and look up to you.”