I was a twenty-five year old professional with an MBA in a fast-track management development program with an exciting pharmaceutical company. I had secured an initial position in Philadelphia as a hospital sales rep in the Acute Coronary Syndromes (ACS) division. During the interview process, I was introduced to CliftonStrengths as my assessor had provided me the book and assessment as part of my onboarding. I was ready to explore every aspect of my talents and transform them into strengths under the guidance of a manager who would tap into my abilities and bring out my best. Everything was positive until I learned that I would be working in one of the worst territories in the nation and that I would not have a manager. Still, chin up, I dived into the opportunity and began my professional career.
In one year working my territory I was able to turn around the performance scenario but was increasingly feeling disengaged due to a lack of support, supervision, and visibility internally. I had worked for a year with no management and/or coaching and after all my hard work was told that because very few people had worked with me I would be getting an internal assignment in market research so that they could better evaluate my performance. There was no recognition of my efforts in the territory, just another opportunity for me to prove myself.
When I came into the home office I learned of my performance expectations. My manager at the time spent no time onboarding me and simply tasked me with reviewing reams of powerpoint presentations with the goal of finding typos prior to being sent for medical legal review. I cannot describe the depression I felt daily seeing those giant, neverending paper stacks on my desk each day. In addition, I was sending thank you letters to doctors for attending medical education programs and when the busy work was done, then I could work on my actual project which was to map patient flow for ACS patients in hospitals to better inform our sales force efforts. And because I was a horrible proofreader and average at mail merging and compiling thank you letters, my manager voiced significant frustration with my performance and worsening attitude.
Everything came to a head at the end of this three month rotation where as I was interviewing for my next opportunity, my manager informed me and the prospective hiring manager that she didn't feel I was worth hiring and in her opinion, I had no value to offer to the company. Naturally, this was probably the lowest point of my young career - worried that I would be fired, wondering about my future, and praying for some ray of light that would get me out of a terrible situation. Luckily for me, the new manager decided to make his own determination of my value and gave me a final opportunity to prove myself. However, his style was far more strengths-based - trying to catch me doing things right and then giving me more to do that would further develop these areas in addition to being very clear on his expectations about my role as a marketing product manager.
Needless to say, my career took off. Working on a team and for managers focused on performance and individual development simultaneously, my confidence soared and the quality of my work improved exponetially. I was also stimulated to read business books and take courses linked to my talents and implement what I learned in my roles. I received 4 promotions over the next 5 years as I leaped from associate product manager to senior marketing director in record time. I went from individual contributor to team leader and never forgot the impact an effective manager can have on the engagement and productivity of their collaborators.
This is not the only moment in my career that my abilities have been underestimated by a manager, either. But I now take far greater personal responsibility for my own development than any manager can support. As long as performance expectations are clear, I can operate at a very high level by focusing on augmenting the people power of my organizations - making each collaborator become and bring their best self to work each day. I have learned and seen over and over again that the most sustainable way to lead is to act as servant to my organization.
Because of my personal experience, I have dedicated my career as a manager and now organizational health consultant to helping organizations and leaders create environments where everyone is valued, developed, coached, and given opportunities to succeed. It hasn't mattered what culture in which I was working nor whether I had direct line authority or just influence, my intention has always been to bring out the best in everyone around me. But unfortunately, at the same time, I've seen employee engagement rates around the world nose dive. I know how bad it feels to be misunderstood by your manager and how disengaging it can be to have someone only focus on what is wrong with you. So applying another of my talents, I have in recent years dedicated myself to offering tools and tactics to managers looking to uplift their people and their performance as servant leaders.
You see, employee engagement is highly personal to me and it should be to you managers out there too. I never want anyone in an organization of mine to feel the way I did at the beginning of my career. We have a huge responsibility as leaders to uplift and bring out the best in those around us. When you adjust your approach you will know the joys of reveling in others success due to your personal influence. And trust me, few things feel better!
This is why, all of you reading this out there, I truly hope you will investigate my latest work - The Servant Leader's Manifesto. It is the culmination of my 10,000 hours of leading teams all around the world and seeing that these principles not only work but are desperately needed in all corners of the globe. But it starts with each manager. I hope you will take part in our movement to transform the leadership status quo by reading the book, starting your own journey to servant leadership, and cascading this to everyone you deem relevant!