Today was a bittersweet day for me as a leader and plant manager on a couple of different fronts. I watched one associate leave the nest while I was notified by another associate that he would be leaving within the next couple of weeks as well. Not only did I lose two engineers, I lost two friends as well. Let me fill in the blanks.
Today was the last day for an associate I had a hand in hiring 4 years ago. He is going through a number of changes in his life both personally as well as professionally and believed that his future goals did not fit with the path he was currently on with our team and for the most part, I agree. For most of his 4 years, I watched him grow as a person and a professional, and I was pleased with how things progressed for him and for our team. At the same time, I always knew he wanted more than I could offer him from a career standpoint because of the number of people in positions ahead of him. I spent a number of hours wracking my brain trying to figure out how to keep him engaged and excited about his position. Over the past 18 months, we’ve had a number talks about his future and where he saw himself in the next few years. They were candid conversations. He challenged me, and I challenged him. I told him at one point that I wanted him to always do what was best for him and if that meant doing something with another company down the road, then I would respect that decision. In the end, he decided it was time to move on, and yes it stings a little, but I am happy and excited for him at the same time. I only want what’s best for the people who work for me – both personally, professionally, and financially. I hope things turn out well for him.
The second part of the story is a little more complicated and probably hurts me as a leader more than most would admit because of the time and effort spent working with and developing this associate over the past eight years or so. When this associate showed up eight years ago, he was a young, intelligent, and highly idealistic engineer. He had a lot of potential. He had his ups and downs in the beginning. His ability to work with associates at the lower levels of the organization needed some work. He made some mistakes and ruffled some feathers as he tried to find his way, but he had the uncanny ability to make chemical processes better. His methods weren’t always easy to understand or follow, but it worked and I respected him for that.
He worked for me for about two years at my first plant with a great deal of success, and then I moved to another plant. After a couple of months at my new plant, I asked for him to come to my new plant as a member of my team. I had some projects that fit his skill set perfectly. Again, he proved me right and handled everything I threw at him. We would meet from time to time and discuss what he wanted to do long-term. The discussions were pretty deep. He wanted work that always challenged him. He wanted to get his PE (Professional Engineer) license. He wanted bigger and higher profile projects, and I tried to oblige. I wanted him to be more of a mentor and leader. I wanted him to work with and help develop younger engineers and chemists. However, this was an area where he struggled. I knew it, and he knew it. And then I moved to Pennsylvania. I got promoted, but we still kept in touch.
I wanted him to succeed. I had invested a lot of time and effort developing him – helping him get more comfortable working with his peers and the new engineers. He struggled at times working for his new boss – another close friend of mine and a person I had mentored too. He didn’t respect his new boss. His work was high quality, but the soft skills suffered. He worked on a number of projects on his own – installations and control system stuff. And then I came back and we talked. He had gotten married. He was finishing up his work to get his PE. He had new aspirations. I wondered how could I keep him engaged and start to rebuild some skills that had suffered while I worked up north. So I gave him a new boss, more projects, and more responsibility. I tried to make sure he was taken care of from a financial and title standpoint as well. These were things that were becoming more important to him. I knew the chances of him leaving increased with each passing day. We had conversations about his future and my expectations and his expectations, and like the discussions I’ve had with other associates, I told him that he needed to do what was best for him and his family whether it was with this company or another one.
Today he made that decision. He handed me the letter of resignation. My heart sank. He found a job that put him in a better place professionally and financially. For me, it hurts, but I am also happy for him, and I told him that. That’s what makes it bittersweet. I hate to see him go, but he’s ready to leave the nest. He’s ready to start a new chapter in his life. Deep down I believe the discussions I’ve had with him helped him make this decision. He’s leaving for a chance to be a leader, to learn new skills, and improve new processes. I hope that he takes the opportunity to mentor and teach a young engineer and build a relationship with that engineer in the same way that I worked with him. He has the potential to do it. He just needs to give it a try. He needs to share his stories – the good and the bad. He needs to tell about the late nights and long weekends. He needs to tell about his struggles he had at times with people and the successes he had when a project worked just like he planned it out. He needs to tell the stories about the people who helped him along the way. These are the stories and experiences I shared with him over the last eight years. I think they helped him. I hope they did.
For me, this is what being a leader is supposed to be like. People come and go, but in the end, my goal is to help them become a better person, a better professional, and hopefully a leader. I will tell stories about this guy for years to come – like the one about how he met his wife. I will use many of the lessons I learned working with him over the past eight years to help and develop others. That’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s what a good leader is supposed to do.
It’s that time of year. Yes, it’s the holidays! Thanksgiving. Black Friday (I’m starting to think that this should be a national holiday). Cyber Monday. Hanukkah. Christmas. Kwanzaa. New Year’s Eve (This should be a holiday too). New Year’s Day. BCS Championship Game Day (OK, I’ve gone too far). All of these events in some form or fashion bring families and friends together – brothers, cousins, parents, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles – all in one place. For my family, Christmas is the holiday of holidays for us! My brothers and I do everything we can to make sure we get everyone together for Christmas. Some years it works out. Some years it doesn’t, but we know what it means to everyone in the family to get together.
My youngest brother and I live in the same town, but my younger brother lives in the great state (and soon to be it’s own country) of Texas. Before we head home, the three of us have multiple phone conversations in which we try to plan our arrivals and departures so that we maximize our time together. We want our families to spend as much time together. Our children are reasonably close in age, so it makes for some good times. We’ll do the fun things – movies, trips to the park, hours of sharing stories about our childhood with our own kids. Probably the best part of the trip is going to the movies with my Dad. My Dad isn’t exactly a movie guy. When I was home over Thanksgiving, I tried to get him to go see the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, with myself and my in-laws. When I asked, he said, ” I only see one movie a year. I’m saving it for Christmas.”
I can’t argue with him. He really only sees about one movie per year – it may be closer to one movie every three years. The last one he remembers seeing in the theater is Avatar – the James Cameron movie that many have equated to the Smurfs on steroids. A number of Thanksgivings ago, he, my brothers, and myself went to see Borat (yes I know what you’re thinking – Borat). I’ve never heard my Dad laugh so hard. He could really relate to the humor of Sasha Baron Cohen – as could the rest of us that night. It was one of those nights where he had his three boys all to himself again – just like when we were kids.
So every Thanksgiving or Christmas, I try to do the same thing with my kids – a trip to the movies. Over the summer it was Madagascar 3. My 4 year old sang “Afro Circus” for about a week after that one. This year it was Wreck-it Ralph. The early 80s video game references in this movie were fantastic. I spent a good bit of the movie explaining who Q-bert was to my 7 year old. I also had to explain what the word “Glitch” meant about three or four times too. Despite missing half of the movie’s dialogue, I really enjoy times like these with my kids. We laugh and talk. We eat popcorn and drink root beer. It’s times like these that get harder and harder to come by. They are moments I treasure. It’s during these times that I realize I’m carrying on the traditions that my family and my wife’s family started many years ago. I hope my kids remember these times and do the same with their kids some day.
So as we draw closer to Christmas, try to find ways to spend time with friends and family. This past Saturday was one of those days. I went shopping with my 7 year old. We were out for about 5 hours. It’s amazing how many little nuggets of information you can learn in 5 hours. She told me about all of her friends and “fr”enemies. We talked about ghosts (she does believe in them, thinks one lives in our house, and thinks they only come back to earth when they have “unfinished business”), soccer, and her sisters. She told me about the little girl who tries to eat her fruit cup and part of her sandwich at lunch everyday because she doesn’t like the school lunch (luckily for the little girl, she is a sharer). We talked about her never-ending want for a kitten (I will write a separate post about this at some point). We bought presents for family and for the Angel Tree children we picked at church. She played with every toy in Target, helped me pick out presents for her mother from me, and downed an ICEE in record time.
Like my Dad, it’s during these times that I try to impart wisdom on my children. I try to save them from the pitfalls I experienced during my childhood (Like breaking a car window with a rock and a slingshot – although I don’t claim that one. I was aiming at the car’s wheel). I’m not overprotective by any means, but I want them to be respectful and make smart decisions. I am a firm believer in teaching my children the differences between making good decisions and bad decisions (like the fact it’s wrong to sneak candy from the candy bucket, eating it in your bedroom, and hiding the wrappers in the back of your closet only to be found by my wife at a later date). I also try to teach them the importance of not sweating the small stuff (apparently the fruit cup is a big point of contention) and choosing their friends wisely. I want my children to do better in life than me. I want them to make a difference. I think it’s important to start teaching/coaching them while they’re young. It’s why it’s important to make time for them. At the end of the day, I asked her about her favorite part of the day, and she said just spending time with you. What else could a Dad ask for? Maybe another day out really soon? We’ll have to play that by ear. I have some time off at Christmas. However, her older sister is up next. A daddy/daughter date with my newly minted 9 year old “tom-boy” fashionista who came home today from a friend’s house with pink hair and went to the Nutcracker in a skirt and silvery/sparkly shoes. Her mother and I did not approve, but we didn’t have time to do battle. She’s definitely an individual, much like her Dad.
Wish me luck! Happy Holidays!