This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend time with my niece who will celebrate her first birthday this month. It has been weeks since I last saw her and I was amazed at how much she changed. Somehow, she transformed from a baby to a little girl. She was taking her first steps, testing the waters, and getting into everything. Her eyes watched everyone and observed our actions. I was fascinated by her growth and the influence we all had on her.
Our early influences help shape us into the adults we become. As we grow older, we encounter people who impact our lives. We meet some people we like and try to emulate their behaviors while there are others we do not.
Many people have influenced me throughout my career – some without my knowledge. One unlikely influencer was a manager I worked for early in my career. Honestly, I did not like this manager and I didn’t think he liked me. I rarely saw him, and when I did, he had nothing positive to say. He was much older than me and had a management style different than mine. He was old school, I was not. He was the turtle, I was the rabbit. I was so put off by his style, that instead of listening to what he had to say, I focused on how he was saying it. I am sure I was a challenge for him to manage.
One day we were very busy. I was running around and felt like I had everything under control. My manager pulled me aside and told me to slow down because I was out of control. I told him I was in total control and everything was fine. He proceeded to tell me that this was not the perception I was giving to the team and my direct reports. The perception was that I was out of control, even if I felt I was in control. He continued to say that, as a manager, I was always on stage. When on stage, those around you watch your every move and how you react to situations. He disarmed me with this comment and I did not respond. After this experience I slowly began to be more accepting of his ideas. While not always agreeing, at least I listened. Soon after this experience, I was promoted to a new role working under another manager.
At the time, I am not sure I fully appreciated what this manager was trying to teach me. I had closed my eyes to a style and way of thinking different than my own. I did not want to learn from this person, so I did not. It was not until I got a little older that I appreciated what he was trying to teach me. Here is what I learned:
- Always be open to new experiences and opinions. Listen and be objective.
- You can learn from the most unlikely sources.
- Not everyone has the same style you do and that is okay.
- Take what you like about other people’s style and apply it in a way that works with your style. Don’t try to be something you are not.
As my niece experiences life through rose-colored glasses, she teaches me to do the same. With every experience comes an opportunity to learn.
Have you had an instance where you learned something from an unexpected source? How did you handle it and what did you learn?
It is amazing where our sources of influence come from. I try to be cognizant of being in the spotlight and of listening to those that beat to different drummers. I have an employee that knows me well often telling me that I need to let more of my zany or vulnerable self be seen by some of the newer employees that hasn’t seen that side of me. At first I said ‘they don’t want to see that in me’, but I am listening closely because this guy knows our people.
It is hard to fight the need to be “top of professionalism” and show more humanity, but I take the feedback seriously.