Jim walked into Walt’s office unexpectedly. “Can we talk?” said Jim. Walt hesitantly responded: “Sure”. As Jim closed the door Walt’s nervousness heightened. He was unhappy, but did not think Jim was unhappy with him.
Jim proceeded to talk. “It seems you are unhappy here Walt. Now don’t get nervous. I am not firing you, but I am concerned.
You have always done a great job and I certainly don’t want to lose you. Yet I also don’t want you to stay if you are really that unhappy. Here are two cards from the recruiters I trust the most. One of them got me this job as a matter of fact. I told them you may be calling and to take good care of you. I am happy to talk with you about what is going on and support you in any way I can.
Personally, I hope you stay, but I know a bright guy like you has options. It is important for you to know what is out there. Please keep me posted. My door is always open.”
They shook hands and Jim left. Walt was stunned.
An Important Leadership Lesson
Jim happened to be my dad and this was a story he shared one night over dinner. I never forgot it because he taught me a very valuable lesson about managing and leading people.
People always have a choice even if they do not see that they do. A critical role of every leader is to bring people to choice.
You can be a victim of your circumstances or you can choose who you are going to be in the face of them. There are even times when you can choose new circumstances. As a leader, if you really want to empower someone, the best way to do that is to guide them in seeing the choices they do have and support them in choosing for themselves.
On the surface sending Walt to recruiters may seem unusual, or even extreme, but there’s more to the story.
While Walt was very bright and talented he had also developed a bit of a bad attitude.
Jim had tried many ways to reach him, but was not getting through. Instead of talking to the people who could do something about his complaints, he was just hints to his peers that he was thinking of leaving.
He took what seemed like an unusual action because he thought Walt had great leadership potential. He often stood up for others, but seemed to be having a hard time asking for what he wanted to be satisfied. He also knew that for as long as Walt thought the “grass was greener” somewhere else he was not likely to choose to give 100% in his current job. He wanted him to choose and wanted him to know he respected him and would support him regardless of his choice.
By taking the discomfort of having to “sneak around” out of the equation for Walt, a constructive conversation between them began and a bond of trust was formed that carried them for many years to come.
Walt (not his real name) was one of 4 men who conference called my dad every Christmas for many years just to say thank you. He had mentored them throughout their careers whether they were working for him or even at the same company or not.
Their bond of trust was based on one simple principle:
We are 100% responsible for who we are, what we do and what we have.
The real source of empowerment for any one of us is to make conscious choices to create the life we want.
My dad would have been 82 this year. His last message to me was the genesis for Random Acts of Leadership. Sharing this story of one of his many acts of leadership is my way of remembering him. If you would like to read the story behind the idea click here.