The greatest lesson of my early career

I was fairly young when I graduated high school. I was 16 to be exact. I had big dreams of going to a university with plans of a swift exit with a crisped degree. Sure, that happened and I immediately landed a simple job just days before my graduation ceremony.

I was brought in as a junior associate and quickly became a top performer and earned my way to working alongside (but very much junior to) the Director of Operations. For the sake of this story, we will call her Susan. I am sure that at the time I had cartoon hearts glazed across my eyes every time she was in the room. Susan had a shaved head and wore impeccable makeup every day. Her outfit was never wrinkled and I don’t think I saw the same outfit worn twice. In between maintaining a nearly perfect appearance at work, Susan came in the door on day one with more knowledge in our industry than anyone could have expected.

Susan was #careergoals.

I must admit, half of the team was not excited to have her governing the office with a tight fist. I actually enjoyed it having grown up in a very disciplined household where each family member was expected to pull their weight. If you need a better idea, picture this. When we went out for dinner as a family, my father would tell us to be ready to go by 7:00pm. That meant, be in the car, seatbelt fastened by 7:00. If you happened to be the unfortunate person who was just arriving at the garage door at 7:02pm, you’d be better off finding yourself a sandwich at the house because we had already left. We said 7:00pm.

For months, I looked up to Susan absorbing every bit of wisdom I could hold. When she handed me a new book to read, I read it over the weekend and returned it by Monday asking for the next one. After all, I had big dreams and wanted to have a strong foothold in my career early on just as she had achieved for herself. But one day, while sitting in a meeting with Susan and my cadre, I felt something. “You’re going in circles and I need you to land that plane right now. You’re just babbling and we don’t have all day,” she said to a Senior Manager after he struggled to pinpoint who on the team should be let go. I felt disappointment that Susan was openly criticizing a manager for finding it difficult to pin his team against the wall. I can’t imagine it would have been easier for me if I was in his shoes.

Your team notices everything. It’s reverse micro managing. I am unsure if there is an exact term for it but we will call it micro-observing. Your team looks up to you as a visionary, as a leader, and as pioneer. They notice what type of spread you use on your bagels, what phone you use, what jokes make you laugh, and even how you talk to your team members. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “I speak to them like adults. There’s nothing to worry about.” That isn’t always the case. Team members are encouraged to develop close relationships to better their collaborations with one another. Team members go out for lunch with one another, vent to one another of slack, and even might have a few beers together. They grow closer — like a family. When someone in your family is abruptly cut off in a meeting or spoken over, you notice. Your team notices.

There are times when you need to be sharp with the team and give unfiltered feedback. If you have a relationship with your team, that can happen more frequently and people rise to the challenge and discipline. Improperly singling out team members will leave your team feeling targeted as a whole. How you interact with individuals on the team becomes what the collective team thinks of you. It’s kind of like a leadership honor system: Do unto one, as you would do unto all.