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Body Shop Manager Debuts Book on “Inspiring People on the Front Lines”

Co-author John Stuef, who has almost 40 years of experience in the auto body trade, wrote the book to help shop managers lead people better.

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Jason Stahl has 26 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 14 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

Rarely do you come across leadership books that are written by and for people in the collision repair industry. That’s why “From Doing to Leading: Your Guide for Inspiring People on the Front Lines” is so unique. It’s written by Amy Bradshaw and John Stuef, who has almost 40 years of experience in the auto body trade. BodyShop Business talked with Stuef to learn a little bit more about him and what inspired him to write this book.

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John Stuef

BodyShop Business: How many years of experience do you have in collision?

John: I started out as a painter’s helper in Detroit about 38 years ago. Since then, I’ve been a painter, body tech, manager and now regional manager for a large corporation. I also owned and ran my own body shops in Detroit at one time. It is safe to say that I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in and around body shops.

BSB: What gave you the idea to write a book?

John: When I first took on the role of regional manager a few years ago, I recognized that the greatest need my managers had was in leading their team. All of my managers had great technical ability and understood the processes to effectively manage the workflow through their shop. They could look at a car and spot underlying unibody damage from poor-fitting body panels. They knew that the ‘why’ behind poor fit is often unibody damage. But, where they lacked expertise was in the leadership department; they did not understand the why behind human behavior. How often has this happened to you?

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Your top A tech, who made over $100,000 last year, walks into your office and puts in their notice and you had no idea that they were even unhappy or why the technician would want to leave. Or worse yet, as a regional manager, one of your managers calls you to tell you the top tech in their shop is leaving and they have no idea why. The facts show that over 50% of people leave their jobs because of poor management.

As regional manager, I spent a major part of my day putting out the fires resulting from a lack of communication and poor interpersonal relationships in my shops. I often had to resort to moving people from shop to shop in my market because team members could not get along with certain managers. A lot of my managers were finding it difficult to get the most out of their team members, to say the least. As we write about in the book, making the transition from being a great doer to being a leader requires a different set of skills. I found myself putting a lot of time and thought into how to better prepare, coach and guide my managers in their leadership roles. Like me, most of these guys had not gone to college or had any formal leadership training. I knew I had a lot to offer from my own experience on the front-lines and thought about writing a book. Then, as luck would have it, I met my co-author Dr. Amy Bradshaw and she said, ‘You should absolutely write a book, let’s do it together.’ And so we did.

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BSB: So you based the book on your experience in management?

John: I based it primarily on my own experience but also on the insight I gained when I first started reading about human behavior. I know it might sound a little crazy that a body shop guy like me got interested in the science behind human behavior and the neurochemicals that drive our actions and reactions. But I have found that understanding this piece is incredibly helpful when it comes to leadership. Amy is a scientist so she knew immediately what I was talking about when we first met. I had a couple people tell me that neurochemicals and human behavior were going to be way over the head of most in the body shop business. I completely disagreed and I would I tell you that, given the success of our book, those people were wrong. Understanding human behavior is of interest to just about all of us, and the insight it can give you into better leadership in the workplace is phenomenal.

BSB: Explain more about how you met your co-author, Amy Bradshaw.

John: Amy and I first met at the gym at the university she works at in Charleston, S.C., and made an immediate connection. We both recognized pretty quickly that we shared a common outlook on life. As a team, I bring the leadership and body shop experience, while she is very good at putting into writing my ideas, stories and leadership advice. She also understands the science behind human behavior. That’s another tip: if you’re looking for someone to partner with, find a person who complements your strengths and weaknesses. We make a really good team.

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BSB: Did you self-publish or find a publishing house?

John: We self-published our book. It is now available on Amazon as a paperback, e-book and audible book. I’m a huge believer that you are able to manifest your dreams. I had a vision to write a book and I pursued it until it happened. Dream big, and you can become anything you wish to be.

BSB: What was the goal of the book? To make money? To springboard yourself into a potential consulting career? For personal satisfaction?

John: My goal first and foremost was to help my team members become better leaders. There was great personal satisfaction with being able to put down in words the concepts and practices that have helped me become a better leader. I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to transfer the knowledge I have to the next generations of leaders. And yes, I would like to continue to help provide leadership training on the front lines.

Right now, we are putting together a leadership program that will be available to not only people in the body shop business but front-line leaders in many different occupations. Anywhere people are transitioning from being doers to leading people, everyone will be better served by understanding the why behind human behavior. We are excited to bring that to audiences around the country.

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BSB: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the collision industry or anyone else who has read it?

John: The feedback we have gotten from the book has been tremendous. We really had no idea when we wrote it whether people would respond to the message or even be interested in a leadership book for body shop people. In fact, in our new edition of the book, we have included some of the reviews we’ve gotten from top people in the business. Just really amazing positive feedback. The book took a lot of time and effort but it was truly worth it all. And we plan to write more – there’s still a lot more to cover, so stay tuned.

Find John and Amy’s book in all its formats on Amazon.com. John and Amy are also available for leadership development training and speaking engagements. For more information, email [email protected].

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