We were in a large conference room in the basement of what was then AOL HQ in Dulles, VA. 20 or so AOLers were gathered to meet a handful of folks from our newest commerce partner to kickoff a strategic relationship. Every functional area was represented to discuss the partnership and how we’d get to work. But first, the introductions!
Now, I am a fan of the “let’s quickly go around the table for intros.” Putting names with faces is key, and it’s great to know what areas of expertise are represented in the room. But you can also learn a lot about an organization and the people in it by how those intros go. At AOL circa 2002, and I’d guess in a lot of conference rooms today for a lot of you, those intros are a blur of rank and title with little insight into who is actually in the room.
It went something like this: “I’m so-and-so, director of such-and-such.” “I’m blah-de-blah, senior manager of blah.” I can’t even recall what my title was at that time, but I absolutely guarantee you I sat there super psyched to blurt it out. I’m Chris Eberle, SENIOR Manager of something-something for AOL something-marketing. And I am So. F’ing. Cool. Or at least I thought so.
I don’t remember anything about the content of that meeting. I’m not even positive who the partner was – I think it was ShopNBC. Remember them? Neither does Google. What I do recall vividly is how the senior-most person in the room introduced himself: “I’m Tom. I work in Operations.” That was how Tom Shannon rolled. He ran Operations for a $300MM+/year commerce business called AOL Shop Direct. It was a big gig, but not everyone in the room knew who he was. But still, he didn’t feel the need to announce himself as anything other than a person who works in Operations.
Why is this important? While a good meeting needs an agenda, and a facilitator or really disciplined group to keep it on track, it does not need everyone staring at the senior person in the room, waiting for them to talk, holding back their questions. And it does not need ego. Say what you do. I’m a designer. I do the marketing for this product. My team builds stuff. I like numbers. Give people an idea of what you actually do, and maybe a little taste of your personality.
What else did this guy do right? He was always approachable.
I remember emailing Tom a question. He was a couple levels higher than me, in another part of the organization, but I didn’t know who else to ask. I started the mail with ‘Sorry to bother you…’ He responded quickly with a helpful answer. The next time I saw him in the hallway I said “Hey, thanks for getting back to me on that email.” And Tom said “Sure. And, hey, it is never a bother. Seriously. Please don’t ever feel like you can’t ask me for help.” That stuck with me. It was over a decade ago and I can still picture the exchange.
Why do these small moments matter?
Good management happens when you let what you’ve learned from leaders at their best, and at their worst, combine to form your style. Some are brief moments like these, where their actions set a valuable example. Others are in the processes they follow, the cadence they establish, or whatever other areas that are impactful to you. I know these examples from Tom impacted me and are a part of what I endeavor to bring to the table.
Looking for more ideas on leadership, check out this post: Get in over your head as often and as joyfully as possible.