On Thursday, I had lunch with the first manager I ever worked for. I worked for this man over 30 years ago, and although I may not have known it at the time, he was probably the best manager I ever worked for. He taught me how to sell, how to manage my time, and so much more. What made this past meeting so amazing was that, this time, he taught me a lesson he recently taught himself. He believes that this simple lesson actually saved his life.
This man was not just your average, run of the mill, manager. He ran an insurance office that consisted of 100 people including over 70 salespeople, support staff, assistant managers, trainers, and office administrators. He helped make this particular office, located in Washington DC, one of the most successful offices in the country. If you ask him, he’ll tell you his best work was with the sales team.
Selling insurance can be a brutal profession, with a washout rate of over 70%. That high rate of turnover shows you just how hard a profession it really is! It takes a special person to be able to listen, problem solve, instill confidence, show empathy, and care. But as he put it, the most difficult task was often to look a person in the eye and tell them, “You need to pick yourself up by your bootstraps, dust yourself off, and fight!”
This wasn’t the first time I’ve reconnected with my first manager. In fact, I’ve met with my manager about once a year, for the past five years. Each time I saw him, he looked a little worse than the previous time. He’s had a number of personal setbacks, including enduring the sorrow of losing his wife – the love of his life. Last year when I saw him, he looked sad and distant. I was wondering if that was going to be the last time I saw him.
We fast-forward to this past Thursday, and this time, my manager looks much better as he strolls in to meet me for lunch. He was smiling, and confident, and he was teasing me about my bald head. He was back!
He spoke about the presentations he was delivering, and the volunteer counseling he was conducting at his assisted living facility for those who were battling depression. After about fifteen minutes of listening to how this man not only came back from the brink but was now helping others, I asked him point blank: “What happened to you? You look like you are a completely different person from the man I saw last year!” His answer was so simple.
“Rob, for over forty years, I’ve managed people who struggled at home and on the job, and I always found the words to help them. Sometimes these words were motivational, and sometimes these words were pretty tough. But they were always honest. In short, I sat myself down and I decided to have a conversation with myself. I asked myself; what would I tell myself if I was still a manager? At that exact moment, everything became clearer and easier to understand.”
Believe me when I tell you that this man is back! The solution here may sound almost too simplistic, but I have seen this transformation with my own eyes. Isn’t it interesting how often the answers we seek are right there in front of us? If you are struggling, ask yourself this question: “If I were helping someone else with this issue, what would I tell him or her?”