What Drives Your Behaviors?

Named by Inc. as one of the top 100 leadership speakers, Shelley Row, P.E., is an engineer and former government and association executive. Shelley’s leadership work focuses on developing insightful leaders who can see beyond the data.

A fancy sports car may look great, but if it’s equipped with a 1.6 liter 120 horsepower engine, it won’t perform as a sports car should.

It’s the same for you. The influences “under your hood” greatly impact your communication, work, and communication style.  Helpful assessments reveal some of this information, but you have stories and filters that have a major impact, too.  Here are some clues from my Management Training for Technical Managers series.


Our stories are our perception of “truths” that we allow to soak into us. We receive these from influential people in our lives like parents, teachers, and friends.  These stories stick with us even when we aren’t conscious of them, and they can affect our behavior.  Some examples include:

  • Work hard.
  • Do as you’re told.
  • Be nice.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • No backtalk from you!

These all sound relatively harmless, right? Yet when you carry them into certain situations, they can have a negative effect.  For example, “Be nice” may keep you from terminating an underperforming employee.  “Don’t interrupt” may keep you from speaking up on an important topic.  One of my clients struggled to apply reflective listening skills because they involve relaying “What I hear you saying is …” and his parent tolerated no backtalk at all.

To work through these stories effectively, take the time to reflect on these questions:

  • What “truths” taught by influential people have stuck with you?
  • What personal “rules” do you apply to everyday life?
  • What beliefs lead to boundaries in your behavior?
  • Do you find yourself needlessly tripped up in certain situations? (i.e. Would you find it hard to ask a neighbor to take care of your plants while you vacation, because you don’t want to impose?)
  • Do you find yourself hesitating to take action for seemingly no good reason?
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What are your filters and stories?  Take time to identify them. They work under your hood and impact your management decisions in unintended ways.



Everyone sees the world through a unique filter. Our filters color our perceptions and decisions. For example, I come from a small farming town in Texas and was raised by a disciplinarian father and polite mother. We always attended church and did our homework.  Early in my engineering career for the Texas Department of Transportation, an engineer from New York came to learn about our projects. I responded with a “Yes, sir …” or “No, sir …” to all of his questions, and he became agitated.  He felt patronized, and I was stunned.

Identify some of your filters with the following questions:

  • What is your cultural background?
  • What did your parents do for work?
  • What type of political philosophy did you grow up with?
  • What educational background does your family have?
  • Are you the oldest, youngest, middle, or only child?
  • What hobbies does your family have?
  • What type of work did you do early in life?

All these questions and more can reveal filters that can color your judgment. Being aware of them can help you think outside your own box.

What are your filters and stories?  Take time to identify them. They work under your hood and impact your management decisions in unintended ways unless you are aware and actively managing them.

I go much deeper into this topic in my training webinars, including Top 10 Skills for Technical Managers.  I hope you’ll check it out.

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