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.