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7 Things My First Real Boss Taught Me--Lesson 5

Lesson 5: It’s a Gray (hair) Area

By the mid 90’s our company was beginning to taste real success. We now had a handful of people working in Sales and I was the senior salesperson with a small amount of leadership responsibility. My main focus was developing our national reseller network and it was going very well. The entire company was growing and we were regularly adding new employees in Engineering, Operations, and Finance.

The time had finally come. We were going to move out of our extremely humble, labyrinth-like building located in a very dicey neighborhood (note: more details about these humble beginnings coming in Lesson #7) to a spacious new (to us) building actually located in a popular technology park. We were busting at the seams and this was a big moment for the company.

It was exciting to go visit that new building while it was being renovated and cleaned before we moved in. It was big enough for all of us to be under one roof again with lots of nice offices, good conference rooms, a big break room, and plenty of Engineering and Manufacturing space.

Of course, each of us was scoping out where we thought our workspace would be. The Sales Department hallway had several nice offices – more than we needed at the time, but we knew we would be growing. I had my eye on the corner office right in the front of the Sales hall. It was beautiful – twice as big as the other offices with a larger window and fancier carpeting and lighting. It screamed “Executive”, and as the senior Salesperson this was naturally where I expected to be.

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When it came time to move, we were told to just box up our stuff on a Friday afternoon and show up at the new building the following Monday. I decided to get there early to unpack and start setting up my new palatial accommodations. As I turned the corner going into the Sales hall, I immediately noticed the door to my Executive office was closed…and locked. To my further dismay, all my stuff was in a perfectly adequate office a couple of doors down.

This was obviously a surprise and disappointment, but I managed to put it behind me and get to work. The corner office actually stayed locked for a few months and we almost forgot about it…until one morning I arrived and noticed the light was on and the door was open. Before I could realize what was going on, Steve (the CEO and my first real boss) pulled me in and introduced me to our new VP of Sales and my new boss.

I really did not see that coming and I was not happy about it. I liked working directly for the CEO, and I certainly didn’t think I needed a new manager. Why wasn’t I being promoted to Vice President?

I managed to play it cool. I was cooperative and said all the right things, but I didn’t understand it. I was upset and felt slighted and unappreciated. After several days, I got up the nerve to ask Steve why I wasn’t considered for the job (and the office!). It was a quick conversation (as most of them were) and I still remember his answer. He said he did consider it, but –

“You just don’t have enough gray hair.”

Honestly, that answer didn’t make me feel much better, but over the years that followed, I learned what he meant. I knew he valued me as an employee and we had developed a really good relationship. But, the fact was, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Steve came from a larger company and had a vision for what we needed to grow and be successful. He knew what skills and experience he needed on the leadership team at that time. His decision to hire that new VP demonstrates 2 important lessons:

  • Lesson for Employers – Don’t promote people before they are ready just because they’ve been with you a long time. Often, good employees get promoted by default out of loyalty, friendship, or even laziness into jobs and responsibilities for which they are simply not yet equipped. The organization suffers and the employee usually becomes unhappy.

  • Lesson for Employees – Getting passed over for a promotion is never fun, but it’s a learning opportunity. It’s also a chance to demonstrate who you are by supporting the organizational change and being a team player. That approach will be noticed by everyone around you, especially your new boss.

Steve made the hard decision, but it was the right one. I was definitely not ready for that job. In fact, this wasn’t the last time a more experienced person was hired from the outside above me. Honestly, I was upset every time it happened, but I kept a good attitude and learned from all those managers. Eventually, when my time came, I was ready.

Losing sight of what is most important can lead to poor decisions. Steve had a plan for our company and was able to foster our growth in the right direction and make decisions with that plan in place.

One of the benefits of Ignite’s strategy process is reintroducing our client companies to what they may have lost sight of—the needs of their customers and market. A Strategic Planning Workshop provides a collaborative environment, away from day to day operations and turf battles and helps them think through things like distinctive competencies and strengths, opportunities, threats, and weaknesses.