The Power of One

Do you know the old saying?

The one that says people come in and out of your life for a reason? That sometimes they come along to teach you something you needed to learn, or push you in a direction that you may not have chosen …and you are never quite the same afterwards?

Does that concept carry over to the workplace? Can we have that kind of influence over our co-workers?

 What if you had the power to change someone’s life for the better?

Dawn Hrdlica-Burke recently blogged about this topic at hr insomniac in reference to that same focus of Oprah’s finale show. And it’s a topic that’s also been on my mind for some time now too.

I just completed an online eCornell course, “Building a Talent Management Culture.”  Amongst the readings and discussions about talent management strategies was a great deal of focus on finding, mining and developing the talent within your company and then embedding that talent to your company and culture. 

It got me thinking about the early days of my career, and how my direction could have been drastically different.

You see, my career goals never initially included being an HR professional. After college, I found myself working in an administrative position in the HR department at a company in a temporary capacity. This job was simply intended to help me get by until I found my “real job,” which would most certainly be in marketing (the focus of my Bachelor’s degree).  The job was okay, but truth be told I could never see myself doing the work that my colleagues were doing; employee relations and dealing with other people’s problems day in and day out just didn’t seem like something that would get me out of bed in the morning.

But time went by and I still didn’t find that “real job,” so I ended up accepting a permanent position with the company. I was still hoping it would somehow lead to bigger and better things in marketing, maybe by applying for an internal posting. But that never quite seemed to happen, and it got to a point that some may have considered me to be a “disengaged” employee.  I did what I had to do, and tried to do it as best as I could, but I still couldn’t see a future for me in HR.

The reality is, at that point in my career no one really ever sat with me to dig a little deeper and see where my passions lay. I made it known that my desire was in marketing, and that was generally accepted by those in my department, but yet still no one ever approached me to see if there might be a niche for me in a field and department in which I had already invested a fair amount of time. And honestly, had a marketing opportunity outside the company come up at that time, more than likely I would’ve taken it.

Then one day, a new supervisor came onto the scene and she did what no one else had. No disrespect intended towards my early colleagues; in all fairness I never did express a desire to grow in HR, b ut this supervisor took the extra step. Instead of just accepting that I didn’t want to grow in this field, she sat me down and told me she saw a lot of potential in me, and asked me what I wanted to do. If I could create my perfect job in HR, what would it look like?  And guess what? She listened to me and made it happen. She gave me a chance to function in a role that encompassed parts of HR that I didn’t know much about, didn’t really even realize could be the focus of any job, much less my job, and little by little I started to love it.

Years later, I’m still at that same company and I’m functioning in a role with more influence and responsibility that I could have ever envisioned myself in back then, at least not in the HR field. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.  That supervisor is no longer with the company, but she gave me my start and connected me to supervisors and peers that have been an incredible influence on me personally and professionally. I owe the direction of my career to that one simple conversation.

As HR pros, we interact with many, many people every day. We have the power to influence people’s lives and careers for better or for worse. I ask you to never doubt the power and influence you have over the people around you – whether it be as a supervisor, mentor, HR pro or all three. 

I’ve never forgotten the power one person had in changing my life and career for the better. I can only hope that I am able to pay it forward and can have that kind of influence on just one other person in the course of my career. 

That type of power is priceless.

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

Jennifer Payne

Jennifer Payne is a 20+ year human resources leader with a focus on researching, developing, and implementing talent management programs. She is a believer in lifelong learning and self-development who strives to stay current in HR trends, technology, best practices, and the future of work by sharing knowledge with and learning from HR colleagues and thought leaders across the country and throughout the world through writing, speaking, and involvement in various industry conferences and events.  She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter...


Marsha Keeffer

I’ve been fortunate to work for two women like that.

Most recently, I worked for strategist, corporate advisor, author and TED presenter Nilofer Merchant. It’s so rare to work for a CEO who supports and sees the benefits of creativity.

Great post – thanks!

Sue Thompson

Oh my word, so true. People don’t leave companies because they’re bored or disinterested. They’ll usually stay on as disengaged, dissatisfied employees. For the most part, they leave because there’s no connection to a thoughtful boss who is talented enough to want to connect with his or her employees and be a good manager. Simple, but so profound.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *