The late Paul Harvey used to do a radio segment called The Rest of the Story. In these segments, Harvey would tell a unique backstory full of little known facts of some well-known personality or organization. He would save the name of the story’s main character to the end and would always sign off with, “and now you know the rest of the story.” You have your own unique backstory. Maybe someone came alongside you early on and saw your potential. Maybe you fought your way out of a tough situation and fought for everything you have. Maybe you were at the right place at the right time and prepared for the right opportunity. Every story is different. But now you’re in a position where you have the opportunity to play some part in helping someone else write what will be the rest of their story.
My (Adam’s) business partner’s son is entering his last semester of college. He came to lunch with us the other day asking advice about job searching, interviewing and first jobs. It brought back all kinds of memories of when I was starting out. Do you remember what it was like starting your career? Whether it was as a teenager, right out of college or later in life you went through the awkward interview process and landed your first gig. You were likely thrilled to start your new job. For some, that excitement continued as they were led and managed well. For others, the thrill quickly faded into the difficult and mundane. Where did you get your start in your career?
What’s it like at the entry level of your organization? What’s it like for people who work with and for you? The ground floor levels of organizations are full of bright and talented people often times working in circumstances of which leadership is unaware. They see their managers jockeying for position when you’re around. They see how others act one way around you and another around them. They see the truly great leaders in your organization. They’re the ones whose eyes light up when you’ve promoted the right person, but they’re also the ones who sink when you promoted a self-absorbed self-promoter. How do you take care of all levels of your organization with so much going on? While you may have delegated this responsibility, your involvement is critical. It not only shows value to those at the entry level, but also teaches your directors and managers how to lead a team, and creates accountability for them to do just that. So, how do you remind your people and you managers that the stories of their people are important? I have found the following suggestions to be helpful:
- Remember, You’re Not Special. Yes, your grandmother always thought you were special, but I’m not talking about her. I’m talking about you. Don’t be special to you. Don’t carry yourself as though you’re special to your organization. It breeds entitlement in your life and also gives permission for other leaders to do the same. Humility goes a long way. Seek out the unexpected and make it commonplace. If you want to get the rest of the story you have to be disarming, and that only comes when you find the person in front of you more interesting than yourself or your objectives. It may be a transition for you, but it will come with practice and will not only yield great insight, but will also make you an all-around better person. Always introduce yourself and use your first name. That may be a hard pill to swallow, but let’s just admit that times have changed and going by Mr. or Ms. only fosters an artificial hierarchy in your organization. Assuming others know you only reinforces that you’re supposed to be special to the person you’re meeting with.
- Take Notice of the Wallflowers. Those who fly under the radar may not surface in front of you very often, but they are oftentimes impressive observers of what’s going on in an organization. You’ll always have visibility to aggressive go getters climbing their way to the top, but you’ll miss out on some significant opportunities for improvement if you don’t seek out the quiet ones.
- Make It Commonplace. It’s understandable that your schedule is busy and it feels impossible to add one more thing to your list. Some organizations set up special lunches with leaders. Sometimes those are with groups of high potentials. Although these structured settings are easier to manage, you’re likely to get a lot of what you want to hear rather than what you really need to hear. So, make it commonplace. When walking through a floor of your building introduce yourself and grab five minutes to visit with someone you don’t know. Ask who they are, what they do in the company and what challenges they face with their role. Learn from whomever you’re visiting. Sure, invite people to lunch when you’d like. When you have specific problems you want to solve bring together a group of people to gain insights. Just don’t miss the five minute conversations right in front of you. You may find a hidden gem of a leader or a solution to a nagging problem hiding at the ground floor of your organization.
- Set precedent for openness. As a leader you have a significant impact, sometimes much larger than you think. Whether or not you’re aware of it, everything you do and how you do it echoes through your organization. How you treat others, who you hire, who you fire, what you laugh at, how you make decisions, and implement change; all these set precedent within your organization. How you lead governs your team’s work ethic, how they take care of their people, handle customers and work on a team. By carrying yourself with humility you make clear that you value your people and you foster openness in your organization. By taking notice of the time to get to know people across all levels you gain insight into the real strengths and weaknesses within your organization. When you make engaging others commonplace you set the example for other leaders to get to know their teams in a similar manner.
You have the privilege of creating the environment that helps people write a story worth telling, one that fosters success from the new hire in an entry level position, all the way to your direct reports. Think about it. What would it have been like to work in an environment where a leader thought of others as interesting as themselves, found all people to be valuable resources and made engagement with them commonplace? Never forget that you play an integral part in helping your people write the rest of their stories. Good Day!
Co-written with Adam Hawk, MBA, MA – VP of Acquisitions, RENU Management.