There are a couple of events that are, by default, very important in your life. In your personal life those events are weddings, graduations, having children or going on an amazing trip or even experiencing a big love that never really happened. Or trying marijuana for the first time.
In your professional life you can also experience those events. But as I already stated in my post Career in Transition, in this part of the world achievements are not usually globally relevant, so instead of making a big deal out of achieving “successes” I will tell you about some of the key advice that I got from my superiors and the most important things they did for me at the time, their acts and attitudes that I still remember and that were key to my future progress as a professional, and probably as a person as well.
I changed quite a number of bosses and while some were amazing, some were average, and some were… Let’s stop here. But what some of them did for me actually doesn’t necessarily match my overall perception of them as professionals, executives, my superiors or even characters. What I want to underline here is that you can learn or benefit even from a boss who is not the one that you would give the highest grades to or tell the best stories about.
TRUST. I was only 25 years old and just took over an important marketing role with quite a big budget. All the while working under a new boss who just hired me. We were about to launch a new product. Big one. Important one. After three months he told me during a weekly meeting: “Look, I see you are getting it and you are doing a good job. So do your thing and let me know if there is something that I can help you with”. Coming from a strictly controlled environment on my previous job this was like a nuclear booster for me. For the following 12 months I worked my ass off and I was super happy to do that. I worked weekends, nights, days, nights again – but I was super motivated to make it work. Because someone trusted me and I had a feeling that I’m doing it for the team as well as for myself. It felt like it was my own business I was running.
RESPECT. I got a new CEO at one point. It was his first international assignment. He was also quite unfamiliar with the industry and the topics. Smart guy but more of a CFO becoming a CEO type. Me at the time: looking into figures only when I really really really had to. Big believer in creativity, people management and big ideas (the second one didn’t change through time). After a couple of months my boss told me: “Look, you are good with things I’m not very fond of. I’m good with things you are not very excited about. Let’s use that and help each other”. We never liked each other too much, I think. I didn’t like some of his behaviors, I think he didn’t like mine either. I was sometimes too cocky for a person who is not No. 1 of the company. Simply put, we would never be friends outside the office. But we established a good working relationship by respecting each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
SUPPORT. Once I got a big and unexpected promotion and became superior to many older and more experienced people who also wanted that job. Since day one, a couple of them were after me. I’m sure some of them had a voodoo doll with my photo. And they did whatever they could to take me down. Of course in most cases they tried to establish a connection with my boss and to avoid interacting with me in certain discussions and decisions. In 100% cases, he was fair and told them – go to Stevan and discuss it with him. It was an important lesson for them, but also for me, because of the similar situations I had later.
Based on those three examples I established my rules of leadership that were often surprising and confusing to people at the beginning:
- Surprise your team members by giving them tasks which are above their formal level and empower them to make important decisions by themselves. Yes, it’s scary for you and for them but results might be simply amazing!
- Admit to your team that they are doing quite some things better than you. It will not hurt your authority. It will just make your team results better. I said to many of my sales guys that they sell much better than me. After that they were selling even better.
- Always stand 100% behind your direct reports. If you can’t do that – fire them. If you can’t fire them (for whatever reason) leave your job and find the team that you can support. Never talk behind the back of your direct report with their reports. If there is an issue sit all together.
Did I always act 100% led by those 3 rules? Well, it’s hardly possible to achieve that if you work in a complex environment of a multinational company. But I always did my best for it to be over 90%. No one’s perfect. Not even me. Cheers to all good bosses!