I was 28 years old and blinded by my own ambition. Why not? I was in my first managerial role after being promoted three times in six years and my compensation had quadrupled. I found a path towards accomplishing my goals, inching closer to reaching my dreams. That was when the rumors started ....
Opportunities and money were coming so quickly that I started to hear whispers like .... "he married the CEO's daughter". The fact is I was just doing what I was programmed to do my whole life. When you don't have much you've got nothing to lose. One learns that you must compete for opportunities, resources, and attention. Outwork, Outwit, and Outlplay. It came to me too easy, I couldn't imagine why others were so lazy.
As an individual contributor no one cared that I was getting up at 3:30am in LA so I could be first in line on everyone's vmail when the HQ office on the East Coast opened for business. In fact, I'm sure my managers were rewarding me for an insanely unhealthy work/life balance. Things changed when I became a manager. What was really happening was that I was creating significant separation, literally putting an "I" in team.
I was starting to see signs of low engagement from the team. More sick days, tardiness, deaths in the family. Later came to find out that one guy took days off for the same Grandmother's funeral, two years apart. They were withdrawing from social events, etc. The struggle to field a team on any given day was becoming real. I didn't understand what was happening. Didn't they get it? This kind of behavior was going to hold them back from advancing, impeding their opportunities to score roles of greater responsibility. The more they withdrew, the harder I worked and push them, demanding more and more.
After yet another out-of-town 2.5 hour dinner meeting pouring over a new service offering for a prospective large client, I went back to my room frustrated with our ability to be nimble and agile, to move quick enough. Our people just weren't being responsible with this amazing opportunity to win! That's when it happened. BOOM, a wake-up call that would forever change how I would look at teams and work. Actually it wasn't a wake-up, it was a turn down service and a good night note card left on my pillow by housekeeping.
"It is good to be reminded that each of us has a different dream"
It was right there, right then that it hit me like a sledgehammer. I wasn't enabling people to live their own dreams. I couldn't understand why they weren't trying to live mine. Wait, you mean you don't want to wear a Hart Schaffner Marx suit, Johnston Murphy wingtips, and a Talbot tie while you scratch and claw your way up the corporate ladder? Blasphemy, say it isn't so! What I wasn't seeing was that what George was dreaming about was spending more time with son Trevor and catching his Little League game tonight. That Skip wanted to tune up his cart for a big race this weekend. My ambition and hard wiring to compete and win had made me completely tone deaf. A wave of embarrassment and regret immediately overwhelmed me.
It was a defining moment that forever changed how I managed not just the teams and business I was directly responsible for, but also my own personal and professional lives. It became clear that the more I enabled George and Skip and Jason and Sharon and others to live closer to their dreams, the more effective I would be as a leader. It's the greater engagement of the team, not working harder, that would enable us to accomplish more, together.
The past 20 years I've worked hard at trying to recognize that we each have our own set of dreams and no one dream is more important than another. It's our ability to believe and have faith that we can reach our own individual dreams that collectively makes us stronger as a team. They don't always have to be in conflict with each other.
I fall down all the time and catch myself rewarding others with the same unhealthy work/life balance as my own at the expense of our peers. The difference between the 30 year old and the 50 year old versions of myself is that today I recognize my behavior almost immediately and course correct. It didn't take an executive seminar at Wharton or Harvard. It didn't take professional counselling via an expensive executive coach, and fortunately it didn't take being fired because I was becoming ineffective as a leader. All it took was a simple note left on my pillow by someone who hopefully was thriving and working towards reaching their dreams.
Oh, whatever happen to the note card? It has been with me nearly everyday of my professional life after that evening in Scottsdale. It's an important reminder to me that as leader, a husband, father, son and brother, that enabling others to dream is something that we can never forget in the heat of the battle in this gift called life.
Be Bold. Be Great. Be Timeless