The moment I heard the words “Let’s go!” — I froze. It was my second day at my first sales job. The place was Baltimore. The year was 2002. The corporate trainer had instructed us to break off into small groups to do the typical role-plays most sane people dread to get more comfortable on the phone.
“Mike!” I heard my name being shouted from across the room. “Mike!”
After figuring out how to use my legs again, I walked over to my manager in a state of pure panic. The fact he was pushing six foot five and had a reputation for being as charismatic as Bill Clinton didn’t help to calm my nerves.
“You don’t look too good,” he said. “What’s up?”
“I st-st-stutter and I took this job to get some confidence” — were the only words I managed to muster before his catcher-mitt-sized hand swallowed my shoulder.
“What do you want to do?” he asked.
“Run!” I shot back.
“I gotta better idea. Follow me.”
Rather than explaining the situation to the corporate trainer on the way out, my manager simply told him he was stealing me for the day.
“I hate that shit too,” he said on the way to my desk. “Here’s a pile of dead leads and a few scripts. Make your way through the list and let me know if you get hung up on anything.”
“You’re not going to sit with me?”
“No. The fact you had the guts to show up tells me you’ll do just fine. Plus, most people don’t last long if they don’t wanna come to work. Try to get comfortable. I’ll be in my office.”
The best bosses have “super vision”
Since that day, some twenty years ago, my career has taken me all over the globe. During this time, I’ve held various leadership positions in the corporate, startup, and creative worlds.
To this day, when I think about the qualities of someone worth following, I turn to the actions of my first manager.
I wouldn’t have lasted a week if he hadn’t been flexible.
I wouldn’t have lasted a week if he hadn’t been willing to bend the rules.
I wouldn’t have lasted a week if he hadn’t had super vision and taken the time to see me as an individual.
Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Some take the initiative. They set their goal and then motivate people to join them. Others sit back and watch what may happen, or, in many cases, they try to determine where their people want to go, and then they set out to help them get there.
The best leaders, however, the ones like my former boss, work hard to develop the awareness to know how and when to blend these leadership styles.
“Confident!” “Decisive!” “Tough!” If you were to ask half my sales team to describe my old boss, this is how they’d respond. The other half, however, would paint a very different picture, as, like me, they’d lead with words like “Patient!” “Empathetic!” “Kind!”
This is what a leader people love looks like.
They work hard to develop the intelligence to not only read each room they walk into but also recognize each face is unique and needs different conditions to thrive.
They work hard to make sure people are okay and brainstorm ways to move them better forward.
They work hard to be stern when needed and flexible when it counts.
I was once told that the moment you step into a leadership position your personal career dies as your only job is to make sure the people below you rise.
I’m fortunate to have had the chance early on in my career to see those words in action. My first boss was a walking example of this and his team loved him for it.
Some people yelled “Let’s do this!” when the corporate trainer said, “Time for role-plays! Let’s go!” Others, however, were paralyzed by the idea of practicing their pitch in public.
Six months later, if you were to walk into the sales pit you would have had a very hard time identifying which people belonged in the first camp from those who were part of the latter.
Extrovert. Introvert. Tall. Short. White. Black. Young. Old. It didn’t matter. He got all of us where we needed to go by taking things fast and loud with some and slow and quiet with others.
I started my career as a scared, stuttering kid. Today, I’m a decent salesperson who now makes his living helping people to improve their communication skills and raise their confidence.
I’m proud of the fact that my obstacle has become my way. But none of the success I’ve achieved would’ve been possible if people like my old boss hadn’t seen me how I was — in order to help me get to the person I wanted to become.
One person at a time.
One situation at a time.
If you prioritize seeing people, they’ll follow you to the ends of the earth.