Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lost in the wind

Have you ever worked with someone who is smart and used to do a great job but all of the sudden you realize they haven’t done anything of value lately? What were the circumstances? A few years ago, I started with a new company and inherited a direct report. We will call him Gerry (not his real name). In our first meeting, Gerry gave me his history within the company. He had like eight bosses in as many years. He was shuffled from job to job, division to division with little or no support. It was clear that Gerry was frustrated by all of the moves, was skeptical about his future, and wanted stability in the workplace.

I later discovered Gerry’s co-workers saw him as a problem. I had to investigate what this meant. Gerry’s peers described him as diminishing and inefficient. Those are two pretty bad descriptors. I wasn’t sure what to think. If that was Gerry’s personality, I didn’t want him on my team.

Over the next couple of days, Gerry and I met to discuss his future and the future of our department. We talked about organizational structure, responsibilities, but most importantly I shared the feedback from Gerry’s peers. We had a very candid discussion about how people perceived him and my expectations for the team I would be leading. Gerry listened intently and in turn I listened to his point of view. This conversation opened the door for me to understand what Gerry needed to be successful. He needed clear direction, stability and support from his leader. Gerry admitted that his work ethic and attitude may have slipped as he was feeling marginalized over the years. He was mature, smart and dedicated to being successful in the company. I watched his performance and relationships radically improve over the coming months. He led his division from zero to hero in the matter of a year. It was a fantastic transformation.

What can be learned from this story? First, no one had ever learned what it was that motivated Gerry. He was floating and needed a sense of place.  This lost in the wind feeling grinded down Gerry’s motivation and enthusiasm. The second problem was that no one had ever expressed their discontent to Gerry. As a manager, you are not doing someone a favor by holding your tongue. Feedback is an important mechanism for growth and help builds self -awareness. What’s worse was that Gerry’s reputation was scarred from this period of being lost in the wind. It took him a long time to rebuild trust with his peers.  

How can you take ownership for yourself if you are the one lost? How can you understand motivation for yourself and your team? What drives you to succeed? What do you need in order to be successful? Who can you talk to who will give you honest feedback? How can you ensure you stay motivated?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

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