Like you, I have my war stories. What can I say? We’re human. Who doesn't like a good war story, right?
I have one that I’d love to share with you. See that guy in the photo? That's me over a decade ago. This story is about him.
Now, I don’t tell this story (or any story, in fact) to try to prove that I know it all. Rather, I share to foster solidarity and a deeper connection with those I serve.
I’ll take you right to the heat of it. I experienced rapid early career success in a Fortune 500 subsidiary at the AMR Corporation. I did the dance early on moving from marketing to operations, finance and other positions of responsibility in rapid succession.
We’d only had 3 CEO’s in the company’s 60-year history. One day, our CEO announced his retirement after his tenure of 20+ years. They surveyed the executive team, one thing lead to another, and - bam - I was chosen to be the new CEO of a company with over a billion in revenues and 1500 employees.
I was 34. Out of my direct peers (other senior VP’s) - five of them were in their 50’s. Immediately, felt like a fraud. I was sure they thought they rightfully deserved the job.
That night, when I got home and had time to think about what had just happened, I experienced elation and utter terror at the very same time.
Did I just fool all these people into thinking I’m that good, so they gave me the job?
This is the position I had to grow into. I had to face my insecurities and realize that I was chosen because the board and my team saw enormous energy, drive, passion, and tenacity I displayed over the last X years.
I was fortunate in that I was easily coachable. Hell, it was a no-brainer for me to grab onto any lifeline I could.
In short, the whole team stayed together. We had the best 5-year run the company ever had in its then 65-year history. Ultimately, the business was sold and we got spun off, but it was a phenomenal experience.
The gist is, it took me awhile to get comfortable in-position.
I had some phenomenal coaching and mentoring at that time that helped me see that I was the one for the task, to own my role, and to be a leader instead of a manager.
This is why I have a soft spot for working with young superstars like I once was (damn, I sound old saying that, but it’s true) to get more comfortable and confident in-position so they can be more effective faster and sooner for the benefit of the company. To anchor the truth that they deserve to be there. That they were picked for the right reason and that they have what it takes.
And to create a safe space where they can have those honest conversations that they can’t have with their boss or direct reports about the vulnerable things that matter.