Holy Smokes….My Boss Actually Has My Back!

I was an inside sales rep at a respected steel distribution company in Houston, Texas.  It honestly took me a year to figure out how I was “selling” rather than simply quoting and filling orders, but that’s for another article.  The purpose of this one, is to highlight the benefit of working under or with an amazing mentor or leader.  There are many different forms of leadership, so I can’t tell you which kind of mentor is the “greatest.”  What I can tell you though, is that you know it when you see or experience it.  Hard part is that you “know it” about 5+ years later when you look back and see what you’ve learned!  An article breaking down a great mentor is for another day (I gotta keep some in the tank), but I want to focus on one specific thing that I was told early on in my career with Energy Alloys by someone I would consider to be both a mentor and great leader.

“Our job is to make sure we give you the potential to develop your career and keep moving up.  If at any time we fail to do so, I’ll be the first to write you a letter of recommendation if you have an opportunity to be a VP with NOV or Halliburton.”

I got your back


I was in the breakroom grabbing a coffee when he said this to me.  I can’t recall exactly what prompted the topic of conversation, but I can remember how that three-legged hamster powering my brain started pushing it at 125%.  Not to figure out what he meant by that statement.  That was clear.  I was processing why he was saying it to me as someone who had been there for about 15 months.  Remember that my title was “Inside Sales Representative.”  His?  Chief Operations Officer…… dude!  He was the COO of a successful global corporation.  Again, (push it hamster!) why was he sharing this with me? Let me break this down….

What is his role and objectives?

  • To develop leaders he knows, trusts, and believes in to deliver results
  • To grow the revenue and profitability of a mid 9-figure business
  • Succession Planning – To find leaders to fill new roles and take over those that were occupied by senior managers already.  (Pro Tip – you can’t move up yourself if you don’t have someone who can back-fill your position!)

Time to Put on Your GM Hat

Consider you are the coach of a college basketball team.  Your job is to put together a team that could compete for a National Championship.  Are you focused on the next 2-3 years and you want to grab the one-and-done players or are you building a legacy?  Granted, the playing field and rules of the game in college sports have changed dramatically, but the idea remains the same. Your job?  Your ultimate responsibility?  Provide your players with the ability to develop their career and keep them moving up.  Sounds familiar?

In the past, I didn’t think highly of Coach John Calipari.  I watched UMass and then Memphis go through their “scandals” and my assumption was that he was a dirty coach.  He didn’t play by the rules that everyone else was supposed to play by, which, in my opinion, is not cool!  Then I watched this 30 for 30— https://espnpressroom.com/us/press-releases/2017/03/30-30-documentary-coach-john-calipari-one-not-done-premiere-april-13-espn/.

We’ve all had those experiences where we see someone from a different perspective, and it allows us to generate a different opinion of them?  I gained a different respect for him as a person who was responsible for the development of players.  But most importantly for the fact that he said his job was to “prepare his players for the NBA.”  I’m a big Arizona Wildcats fan, so don’t think I’m jumping on a bandwagon or playing favorites.  If you were one of his players, his job, just like yours as a leader is to “give you the potential to develop your career and keep moving up.”

So here is my challenge if you’re a leader or manager.  Understand that one of, if not THE, main focus of your job is to generate opportunities for your employees to grow.  I don’t think I’m preaching servant leadership here, though.  By creating the environment to develop your people, you are not prioritizing their needs over yours.  This is more Adam Smith at work here with the invisible hand. If done right, your employees will feel incentivized and capable of delivering results that benefit both the company and their career.

I want to make it clear that there isn’t a silver bullet or “hack” to mentoring and influencing your employees.  The conversation I had with my COO in the beginning of this article was just one interaction.  There were many others like lunches, happy hours, dinners (with spouses), and other events where he could learn more about me and build a personal relationship.  Here are a few things you can do to start cultivating relationships with your promising employees:

Invite them to lunch.

  • Don’t set the date and time yourself but make it clear that you want to get lunch with them. This is a test to see if they take initiative.  I discovered it was a mini-test after my COO finally said, “when are you going to setup our lunch?”

Identify ways you can include them in leadership or customer meetings.

  • A fly on the wall can gain exposure to how the business is managed and operated from the perspective of the owner or executives.
  • I did this and after 2 or 3 meetings, I was asked to present a slide.  It was a great opportunity to have a couple minutes and the attention of senior executive leadership.
  • I didn’t realize it at the time, but in these meetings, I was able to provide a perspective and insight from someone on the “front lines,” which helped them get a clear picture of morale, training needs, etc.

Introduce them to others in your network.  You’ve built your connections and now it’s time to use it for the benefit of others.

  • This is also a great way to confirm if this person is a high potential employee.  Remember that feeling of introducing a new girlfriend or boyfriend to your friends?  It can be a litmus test. Maybe you think they are great, but getting an outsiders opinions could be very valuable.

Whether you own the business or you’re an executive leader, it’s imperative that you focus on strengthening your bench.  You are a general manager or a coach of a team, whether you like it or not.  It might be one person you’re training and developing, or you’re responsible for the careers of hundreds.  Learn how to identify the “A Players” and the ones with the potential to become incredible contributors to your business.  Put yourself in a position to be a mentor.  It’s easy to forget what it was like when you were coming up early in your career.  I bet there was someone along the way who encouraged and advocated for you to put you in a position to achieve success.

When You Create Clarity, Other Things Happen

I’m a huge fan of the byproducts that arise from activity.  When you start taking an interest in the advancement of your employees, something amazing will happen.  They will work harder!  It is not easy to achieve, but it sounds so simple.  When someone believes their manager or boss has a sincere desire to help them be successful, it’s natural for them to want to deliver results.  They don’t want to let their boss down.  To all those leaders who try to systematize and automate connection with their employees, be mindful that people can detect real sincerity.  Yes, it will take more time and effort from you but it will be worth it.  Create an environment of achievement by preparing and promoting your best people.  Take a real interest in who they are as people and they will respond positively.  I look forward to seeing you on the podium as you’re accepting the championship trophy!