Throughout my professional career, I’ve had many experiences with a variety of people. Some were nice, and some not so nice. Most were honest, but a few were snakes. I’ve learned countless lessons about people – how to deal with them, how to manage them, how to negotiate with them, how to interact with them and how to communicate with them. It’s always a work in progress. These people included bosses, colleagues, direct reports, customers, vendors, employees, business partners, fellow volunteers, and neighbors. I think about these people periodically and the lessons they taught me over the years.
- Kind People Do Exist
My first adventure in paid employment was as a car hop at A&W Root Beer. And no, I didn’t wear roller skates. It was a great “first job” when I was in high school, and I loved it. The car hops made good tips, but we hustled. On a Saturday night, we’d be running all over the lot delivering and picking up food trays. In general, it was a fabulous gig for a teenager.
Until that one day…
A man came in and ordered a large mug of root beer. He was in a little yellow sports car. When I went to hook the tray onto his window, the window was at such a steep angle that the mug of root beer … remember, it’s a large … tumbled off the tray and into his lap. This guy and his car were both wearing his large mug of root beer!
I froze. I apologized. I was fighting back tears. I thought for sure I would get fired. But that man was so kind to me. He told me not to worry and reminded me that accidents happen. Then he left me a $10 tip for one mug of root beer.
I’ve thought about that man over the years. Sometimes, even in the most stressful situations, a little kindness goes a long way. And in today’s world, I think we could all offer a little more kindness in many circumstances.
- Being a Mentor Has a Lasting Impact
My first “grown up job” out of college was Communications Manager at a Kinko’s Corporate Office. This office was the headquarters for about 30 stores in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Mary Kay was one of the Regional Managers, and she oversaw about 10 Kinko’s stores. She was the first professional woman I ever dealt with when I wasn’t a student employee in an office on campus. This was a real-life job in a professional business office.
Mary Kay had a work ethic that was second to none. She was tough but fair. Everyone knew it. I watched her in meetings. I saw how she respectfully disagreed with the CEO. I saw how she held people accountable. Including me. I learned how to be persuasive from her. I listened to how she supervised her store managers, but she was always respectful. I followed along as she meticulously ensured that all the details were resolved in a problem. I learned a lot from Mary Kay. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how much knowledge I absorbed from just being around her.
My boss, David, owned the stores. In general, he took an interest to make sure I learned a few things under his tutelage. He answered any question I would ask, and he explained anything I wanted to know. He taught me how to read a P&L. I didn’t even know what a P&L was, but he took the time to show me what information it contained, why it was important, and what “the bottom line” really meant. I never knew how I’d use that information years later when reviewing my own company’s P&L. He was a shrewd negotiator, and I learned a lot from watching him make deals with real estate agents for new store locations.
I reflect on my time at Kinko’s and realize that I never truly valued the corporate culture that existed there. Since it was my first “real” job, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. But the leaders at that organization were always focused on professional development before professional development was “a thing.” I look back and am so grateful for all of the learning experiences I had there. I’ve taken many of those lessons with me on my professional journey.
If you’re a seasoned professional, in any industry, be a mentor when you can. You have no idea how you may impact someone’s career. If you’re just starting your career, find a mentor and soak up all the knowledge that is available to you.
- A Square Peg Won’t Fit in a Round Hole
Sometimes, as much as you want a person to fit into a role or a job, it doesn’t always work. I was working with a credit union who promoted a staffer to be the Marketing Director. He was a nice guy. Very personable. But he had no credentials to be in that marketing role. The CEO moved him into the marketing function, because he had a technical background and had managed some of the credit union website updates, and the CEO thought he’d be good at marketing. The CEO hired me to work with him to see if I could fine-tune his marketing skills. But it was very clear to me early on that this guy shouldn’t be in this position. I talked to the CEO and gently told him that this wasn’t a good fit. But after spending about 3 months working with him, the CEO finally agreed that he wasn’t the best person for the job. Sometimes as much as you want something to work out with a person, it might not always be a good fit. (Note: This lesson applies to boyfriends, too!)
- Hire the Attitude, Teach the Technical Skills
Over the years, I’ve often been responsible for hiring people even before I started my own company. And one of the most enlightening observations is that just because someone has the technical skills, or they look good on paper, doesn’t mean they will be a good fit for the job. Many times, when I’ve hired the “looks good on paper” candidate, I’ve sadly discovered the resume was a lot of fluff and sometimes just plain old fabricated experience. Or total bullshit. But when I’ve hired people that had a great attitude and showed true grit and determination, I was rewarded with a stellar employee who did a fantastic job.
- Trust Your Inner Voice
This is perhaps one of the most valuable tools every single person has, regardless of job, title, education level, and tenure, but many people overlook or discount this tool. Including me, on occasion. Always listen to that inner voice when it comes to people. If something doesn’t feel right with a person, move on. If you’re considering a new hire, but your gut is telling you otherwise, take a pass. If you’re thinking about promoting someone and something seems off, give it more thought. If you’re considering a partnership or business venture, and you’ve got red flags about the person you’re dealing with, give it more time. Over the years, trusting my inner voice has I’m sure prevented problems, while not listening to it has caused me problems. Either way, it’s a critical tool that we all possess, so be aware and use it.
In today’s fast-paced business environment, interpersonal relationships, whether it’s with employees, customers, colleagues, bosses or fellow professionals, can sometimes be challenging, but they can often be rewarding. A little self-reflection and objective analysis always can help with communication. I find the more experience I can pull from my wheelhouse to know how to make a situation successful for all involved, the better the outcome.