Yes, technical. And, interpersonal.
To be talented without valuing people is to be ineffective; to be both technically skilled and aware of people is to be influential.
“Keep it steady, buddy. No need to get white-knuckled on this straightaway. You’re right where you should be.”
Most of my life I’ve never been much of a NASCAR fan. I didn’t dislike the sport, I just didn’t pay attention to it. That didn’t stop me from making assumptions about the racing industry; a few weeks ago, I was proven wrong on nearly all accounts.
Thanks to the generosity of Nutrien Ag Solutions and their partnership with the National FFA Foundation, my teammates and I got to spend a weekend learning about NASCAR from the people whose lives depend on an asphalt track as much as my family’s life depends on the soil. Jeb Burton is a driver for the Kaulig Racing team, and as we gave him a tour of the National FFA Center, he pointed out the parallels between agriculture and racing. The one that struck me the most was that it was a lot more about people than the technical skills of building and driving cars.
As you look to select (or think back to when you chose) your career, do you ever feel pressure to decide between a career in a technical skill or one that focuses on people? I know I do. Part of me is fascinated by the technicalities of economics and, I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I lowkey actually love spreadsheet formulas. Put me in a room full of people who share a love for agriculture and I come alive, too. The stereotype is that you’re either a numbers person or a people person; you love the technical or the interpersonal. What if we could do both?
At dinner that night, Jeb was joined by one of his spotters, Brett. As they shared more about the work they do both on and off the track, it became abundantly clear that as important as it is to have a team that understands how to engineer and build high-quality race cars, it’s just as important to have a team that understands people. Jeb doesn’t simply drive in weekend races, but he, along with his chief, manage their whole crew. He doesn’t just have to know the physics of turning corners and the intricacies of keeping the engine cool while flying around a track for hours on end; he also has to know how to listen to people, motivate them to do good work, and foster a sense of unity.
We can be an expert in our field, but if we fail to value people through our expertise, our technical skills don’t really matter. Yet, we can seek to love people all day, every day, but if we don’t have the technical skills to help our team, we won’t be valuing them as highly as we could. It’s like an ancient Greek author wrote centuries ago; we can be the most eloquent speakers in the world, but without love, we are nothing. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.
This idea became crystal clear during the Xfinity Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the day after we met Jeb and Brett. My team had the privilege of listening in on the exchange between Jeb and his spotters on headsets, and that was where the last of my false assumptions of NASCAR culture crumbled to the ground. Instead of harsh words thrown back and forth between driver and spotters, their demeanor was growth-oriented and reassuring. Intense at times, yes, but never demeaning. The spotters encouraged Jeb as he rounded corner after corner, passed car after car. Jeb responded with gratitude.
I didn’t expect to be so inspired after watching a NASCAR race, but I’ve thought about it ever since. I want my day-to-day interactions to reflect the same level of expertise in both the technical and the interpersonal. I want to love people through both my words and my skill. As for my career? I still love spreadsheets and I still love people. Maybe I’ll become skilled at economics so I can have meaningful conversations with people about how the technical aspects of econ can be an avenue for making a personal difference in the lives of those around us.
What’s your technical skill that you can use to love people? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tag me on social media at @nffaevp and @miriamrosah and use the hashtags #EmbracingComplexity and #FFA21.
A YouTube series for you: learn more about Jeb’s and NASCAR’s connection to Nutrien Ag Solutions and agriculture as a whole through their “Two-Track Mind” Docuseries on YouTube.