Editor’s Note: This post is by Paul Slezak, Cofounder and CEO of RecruitLoop – the World’s largest marketplace of expert Recruiters and Sourcers available on-demand.
I’ve spent the last week on-boarding the newest team members in our San Francisco office.
Last Thursday we all went for a hike and then out to dinner so that everyone could get to know each other better.
Selfies were being snapped by some of the team while others posed for some classic photos along the way. We also took an awesome team photo at the edge of the headland with the Pacific Ocean as our backdrop.
It’s been so exciting watching the team grow and I have to say I personally experienced some incredibly proud moments.
As people handed their phones around the dinner table sharing their photos later in the evening, I suddenly realised that the majority of our latest hires are the same age that I was when I first found myself in the industry in which I would end up spending my entire career!
Who would have thought?
Now although I’ve been a manager myself for many years, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about what it was actually like starting out in my career, and what my managers may have thought of me back then.
Since our team dinner I have also thought a lot about the managers I’ve had along the way and the impression they left on me, and the impact each of them had in making me the person I am professionally today.
So here are 8 of my most memorable manager (as opposed to management) moments … some of my fondest memories of my former bosses, which upon reflection, were also some of the pivotal moments of my career.
1. “You can take the lead on this one …”
I remember walking to visit a new client with my boss. I’d been trying to get into this particular company for a few months and my contact had finally agreed to meet.
As we got into the elevator my boss casually said, “I’d like you run this one, Paul”.
I could feel my heart start to race and I’m sure she could see the sweat starting to appear on my forehead!
I must have looked mortified, but she then said “I’ll be here if you need me but I trust you 100%”.
I can still recall everything about that particular meeting. How it played out; How terrified I’d felt walking in to the first ever meeting I would take the lead on; And how excited I’d been when we were asked to formally tender for the business.
“Well done, Paul. You were great”, my boss said as we walked out of the building. “Are you up for the challenge to take the lead on the proposal too?”
I was on cloud 9.
2. “Vulnerable Paul stay home …”
As quickly as confidence can be built up, it can also be shot right down without warning.
I’ve shared this story once before, but I wanted to share it again.
I’d been to present a shortlist to a client who was an absolutely horrible person. He’d accused me of being “about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike” and had made it clear that he didn’t want me to ever bother him again. I had burst into tears as soon as left the building (one of only three times in my life that I have cried in a work situation!).
When I got back to the office, my boss could see that something was wrong.
I’ve never forgotten the conversation we had that afternoon – the way she explained the idea behind Transactional Analysis and how it could be applied to client relationships.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that from that very moment, I never once let any client see the vulnerable side of me again.
3. My first professional moment in the spotlight
I stress ‘professional’ here since I have always enjoyed getting up in front of an audience (ever since I played the role of Hansel in my Grade 1 performance of Hansel and Gretel)!
We’d been preparing for this breakfast event for several weeks and we had about 50 clients confirmed to come along.
I’d arrived in the office at 7:00am to help set up. About five minutes later my boss walked in looking horrible. He was really unwell and probably shouldn’t have even come in at all. He handed me a Post-it Note. He’d already written it: “I have no voice. Could you please run the presentation”.
My raised eyebrows must have expressed the “Really? Are you serious?” thought going through my head.
He nodded. And smiled (and actually went home before any of the clients arrived).
That was nearly 20 years ago and since then I couldn’t even begin to count how many workshops, breakfast seminars, conference presentations, or lectures I’ve delivered … while loving every minute of it!
4. Putting on my event management hat
I am often asked what I might have been if I hadn’t fallen into the recruitment game; or what I would be doing if I wasn’t a cofounder of RecruitLoop.
That’s easy. I’d love to have my own talk show.
But if I hadn’t got into recruitment, I think I would have liked to have got into events and ultimately become somebody like Ric Birch – responsible for producing some of the largest global events including several Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies.
So you can imagine how excited I was when my boss asked me to pull together a company conference.
It was an amazing experience and it was the first time I truly appreciated what’s involved in bringing an entire company together. He’d given me a challenge that really played to my strengths and personal interests.
Since then I have enjoyed coordinating several conferences – large and small both locally and internationally.
5. Have a break. (Have a Kit Kat).
It had been a massive quarter. Not only had I achieved my own personal best results, but I had also experienced my first stint as a team leader looking after two new recruiters in the business.
I’d been working really hard and I think came pretty close to burning out.
I came back to the office from a meeting one afternoon and there was a Kit Kat on my desk next to my keyboard.
My boss had written a note that simply said, “Have a break. (Have a Kit Kat). And please pop in to my office when you’re back from your client meeting”.
I walked into his office and he shared some really encouraging feedback with me. He then told me he was giving me a few days off (and not taking them out of my annual leave) as a thank you for my efforts over the previous three months.
“I can’t have you burning out, Paul. We really need you. And I’m going to tell the new guys not to disturb you at all for the few days you’re away”.
Anyone for a piece of Kit Kat?
6. Defending me on the battle field
I’ve had a few ‘tough’ clients in my time. And I actually believe that some people are just naturally cruel and nasty.
I’d been working with one particular client for quite a while. And no matter what I did, no matter what candidates I presented, he would always want to speak to my boss to complain about me.
Nothing was ever right for him.
It reached the point where he actually started to scare me to the point that when our receptionist would call to tell me he was on the line, I would physically panic.
My boss called me into her office and called my client (on speaker) so I could hear the entire conversation.
She (completely professionally) told the client that we actually didn’t want to work with him any more. She defended me, praised my commitment, my work ethic and explained that he had no right to treat one of her team members like that.
I’ll never forget that phone call.
7. A performance review with a difference
Even managers need to have their performance reviewed.
I’d been accustomed to having a performance appraisal every six months and as my team got larger the conversations I would have with my boss at ‘review time’ would get longer too.
My boss’ office was all glass so while the team couldn’t necessarily hear what was being said ‘behind closed doors’, they could certainly see how long I was sitting in there!
We had grown the team quite significantly over a couple of months and when it came to performance appraisal season, my boss suggested that we do my annual review off site … at his home.
“Let’s make it an offsite day”, he said. “We can take our time. It will get you out of the office. There’s plenty to talk about … and I’ll get us some sandwiches for lunch”.
For me that particular performance review was a pivotal moment in my career.
We had some great conversations and my boss gave me some really valuable feedback (both positive and constructive too). I have referred to that day in many presentations I have given over the years on the topic of leadership.
Oh … and the sandwiches were good too!
8. Cue the scene change …
Over the years I have learned that ‘being perceptive’ is a very good trait for any manager.
One afternoon my boss and I went out for a coffee (well a tea for me) and he asked me how I was feeling about things in general.
We had always had a really good working relationship and I had no problem letting him know that I was feeling a bit “too comfortable”.
“I’ve definitely sensed that. [pause] So how about a move to Hong Kong?”
That question was the catalyst for one of the most amazing adventures in my career.