Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Survive and Thrive

I woke up this morning wholly unemployed. Sort of. I'm being paid through Thursday, which I greatly appreciate, though I'm not actually going to work. Yesterday was my last day in the office. My suspicion is that my access to information because of who I worked for is too much for some peoples' comfort. And that's okay; I get it. I'm very grateful to have a few free days before my new job begins on Monday, particularly because I'm being paid, so we all came out ahead by me leaving before my time was scheduled to be up. A win-win all around.   

The day was anti-climactic. I've cried every single time I've left a job. If not at my good-bye party, then certainly afterwards by myself or with friends at the after-party. This time - no party, no fanfare, no tears. Maybe I'm growing up. Or maybe there are times when a change occurs that is so obviously a good move that there isn't any way for sadness to be a part of the shift. I wished them well, they wished me well, and off I went. It was a departure entirely free of drama. 

There are two main lessons that I received in this experience and that I fully realized as I was driving that long, slow drive home for the last time. No matter what kind of business, the products or services that are sold, big or small company, the single defining determinant of success is leadership at the very top. Without it, truly nothing else matters. Nothing. As if CEOs needed any more pressure on them. Sorry CEOs - that's why you get paid the big bucks.     

I realized the other insight as I crossed over the border to NY, looking out along the skyline sparkling in the cool, unseasonal sunshine. A few hours earlier, there was a storm that seemed almost apocalyptic in nature. The sky was practically black at 11am. My friend, Richard, said it was Heaven's way of washing away this experience in favor of the new adventure I am about to take. I agree with him. I also think the weather today, its vascillation between storm and sun, was very much a reflection of two pivotal professional experiences I've had - one in 2000 and one now, 8 years later. 

The storm: In 2000 I worked for a woman named Charlotte Wilcox, a crusty broad who didn't let anyone push her around, ever. If she was involved in a show, there was no question who was the top dog. She was hard on herself and hard on her staff, especially me. She taught me how to survive in business - it wasn't a pleasant experience, in the same way that a root canal isn't pleasant, but the lessons she taught me about follow-through and work ethic, your own and that of your boss, have been absolutely critical to my success. She told me that the great problem with my generation is that we have no follow-through and that I should never, ever, under any circumstance, work harder than the person signing my paycheck. And if I ever get the opportunity to sign paychecks, I better remember that I need to work harder than anyone I pay. As a result, I am conscious to ask more of myself than I ever ask of anyone else and I follow-through, always. 

The sun: Bob, my most recent boss, taught me a very different lesson. He was what I think of as the anti-Charlotte. I spent a mostly joyful year, a bit more, working for him. I learned and read and reasoned and tried my best to offer insight, advice, and counsel. And 99% of the time I was greeted with gratitude to an embarrassing degree by everyone I came into contact with on a variety of projects. I worked very hard to be valuable and helpful whenever and wherever I could. In short, Bob taught me how to thrive - how to use my very best strengths to make a difference, and for that lesson I am most grateful. 

In the end, I think all of life, and most particularly our professional lives, comes down to those two basic blocks: surviving and thriving. The rest is all decoration.   

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