John Ray’s Secret Sauce Part III: John’s Insights into Human Relations



Part III – John’s Insights into Human Relations

by Norman Lanier, Ph.D, Corporate Psychologist & Executive Coach


The Secret SauceJohn Ray was a large, brawny man who probably had never met a stranger. To say he was down to earth was an understatement. His reputation preceded him; he was famous in the Talladega, Alabama area and a “car guy”. He was an early NASCAR driver, dirt track racer and non-bragging “discoverer” of Dale Earnhardt.

He had several businesses within John Ray Enterprises, and I met him through his most mouthwatering business—John Ray’s Barbeque and Catering.

For its Employee Appreciation Day (which were almost every month), my client company, a 3-shift operation in Talladega brought in a variety of caterers. Almost all of them were good, and worked out well, but one stood out above the rest as the “winner”—John Ray’s Barbeque and Catering.

I was there one day when John pulled his large, cylindrical trailer into the moderately vacant parking lot (over half the employees parked their vehicles out along the road away from the company’s parking lot because of a strict rule: “No firearms allowed on Company Property”).

John was welcomed by employees who saw him coming. When he got out of his huge pickup truck with dual rear wheels (a “dualie”) and walked back to his silver trailer that looked like a water or gas hauling trailer with only “John Ray’s” on the side, those same employees and any others who had gathered cheered and “high-fived”one another. They watched eagerly as John and his assistant unhooked and opened the top half-moon of the trailer’s tank and flipped it onto sturdy pop-out legs to form a massive double-wide grill. They knew what was coming now that John Ray was there.

From that grill came the best steak any of the employees (or I) had ever eaten.

After one of the employees had spied to find out John’s true recipe and had told me the “missing ingredients”, I could make them at home. I had the secret sauce, I knew how to make them, and they tasted like John’s—but somehow my mind would not let me believe they were quite as good as his.

Because he was so warm, so engaging, and instantly likeable, I wondered if he also had a “secret sauce” for human relations. I arranged to be at the company during a “John Ray Day”, which was code for “Employee Appreciation Day.”

After a wonderful large steak dinner (I selected the largest steak this time) at 4 p.m., I reminded John who I was, even though he seemed to remember me. He sat down to relax with me. Noticeably, he was more interested in finding out about me than in talking about himself.

This larger than life, local celebrity and community icon emitted humility (along with the haunting aroma that came from standing over his double-wide trailer grill all day).

“Aw, Son, I don’t know why people seem to like me…maybe cuz I like people! You’re the psychologist, you tell me!”

But John continued to reflect, “My daddy always preached to me about the Golden Rule, treat other people the way you want them to treat you.

“When I meet someone for the first time, I try to make ‘em feel comfortable. I want ‘em to always know that I’m just like they are—a human being with lots of hopes but lots of flaws and fears. I guess I want ‘em to like me.”

“Maybe I’m insecure or something…” he concluded.

I tried to pursue these dimensions further, but I couldn’t seem to get specific behavior from John about what he did or didn’t do to get people to be comfortable with him so they would like him. I concluded that he only knew the basic ingredients for his “secret sauce” for human relations and that he told me what they were (I don’t think he intentionally left out a couple of ingredients, like he had with the Dale’s Steak Seasoning and with the garlic powder in his steak sauce—at this point, I had concluded he had intentionally omitted them).

In essence, he had given me 4 ingredients that were important for him in getting others to like him:

Try to like people

Treat others as you would like to be treated

Help people feel comfortable

Don’t lose your humility

Over the years, I took to heart what he had said, “You’re the psychologist, you tell me!” I decided I should combine some of what he had said and what I had observed so that I could formulate the “secret sauce” for human relations, and then share it openly with those who are interested.

Next time I will tell you what I believe. This “Secret Sauce” for Relationships is a simple concept to practice and to perfect, and to make a natural part of your persona.

© Copyright Norm Lanier, Ph.D., 2016