Monday, July 5, 2010

Equaling Success

Tonight I wrote a letter I've been meaning to write for almost a decade.

J was the vice-president for instruction at the community college in New Mexico where I worked. I had recently left behind newspaper reporting for a career in public relations and was cutting my teeth in my new position, which involved reaching out to the local media and managing the college's employee newsletter. J, on the other hand, was applying decades of experience and far more education than mine to his job of overseeing the curricula of the college's various programs.

I was struck by the level of respect you showed me, how you treated me like an equal. Trust me when I say ... this is not always the case ... That you, from the very first time we met to discuss something that would be published in the newsletter, treated me as if my knowledge, experience and opinions counted for something, was quite validating indeed. I have always wanted to thank you for that--it made an impression and I have never, ever forgotten. This letter-writing project gave me the chance to express my overdue gratitude.

As I wrote to J, I was reminded of S, another boss whose confidence in me inspired hard work. (I wrote to S very early in THE LETTER JAR project and received a lovely reply from her.) To recognize again the privilege I have had in working with some exceptional leaders makes me grateful and motivates me to treat my employees with the same level of trust and respect that I was granted. "Give people a fine reputation to live up to," Dale Carnegie wrote in his famous How to Win Friends and Influence People." I can't think of a better way to put it.

During the year or so I held the position at the community college (I soon departed for a more challenging position at a hospital) I didn't work one on one all that frequently with J--he clearly was much further up the institutional ladder than I. But, as I have realized in letters not only to former bosses but also former employees, whether someone will be your mentor has little to do with where they are on the organizational chart. Being a genuine leader day in and day out--as J was and is--creates infinite opportunities to influence someone the very same way J influenced me.

I'm glad I seized the opportunity to tell you how you affected me; this letter-writing journey is helping me to more deeply understand so many truths I though I already "knew" but needed to "know" even more convincingly. That in order to have hard working employees you must make clear your trust and respect is one of those truths. Thanks again.

PAPER TRAIL: Since beginning this blog and its companion Twitter feed I've happily discovered quite a few stationers. Do you savor fine paper, enjoy an elegant pen, appreciate having notecards for every occasion and recipient? Then you'll love browsing Felt & Wire, Broadway Paper and HotShoe Cards as much as I have.

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