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Be more like this guy.

 Nametag that says My Name Is Tom

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.

 

Chris Eberle

5 Comments

  1. Chris – Enjoyed the blog and the fun (albeit stressful) days working at AOL. AOL was my first gig in the “corporate” world. And, now, a few corporations later, I do recognize and appreciate what was unique about Senior-level management at AOL. What you describe is spot on.

    I still use a few quotes from my AOL-days – all from VPs:
    “Its nice to be clever, but it’s better to be clear.” (referencing a creative for a campaign from an agency)
    “It doesn’t matter who gets the credit, as long as the work gets done.” (reference from a VP who was rolling out a new client version).

    I think many individuals get caught up in the hierarchical structure instead of spending time building partnerships. But then Tom, I think, knew this as part of his role. It’s something all of us should continue to strive for.

    Nice blog. Thanks for the memories (said wistfully).

    • thanks Erika! for the love, and for more AOL VP words of wisdom! I miss interacting with you online!

  2. Chris, I remember in the brief time we worked together, you sent a group of people an email where you used the phrase “we’ll get it done skunkworks”. We didn’t know you too well yet and I probably should have just Googled it, but I responded back to everyone and asked what it meant. I’ll always appreciate that you made me feel smart for asking, not dumb for not knowing. I think you have the approachable thing nailed.

      • Chris,

        Just came across your BLOG. I appreciate the kind words and hearing that I may have contributed in a small way to your outstanding career success. You are so right about taking both the good and not repeating the bad managing styles we have had the experienced in our individual careers. Mentoring employees is something all senior management should be doing EVERYDAY not just when asked to be part of a mentoring program for a few chosen potentially up and coming employees?

        Somehow this has SADLY been forgotten by senior managers who make it.They forget that their success comes from all employees at all levels they have worked with and what we learn is experienced from each other.

        Thanks again for the thoughtful kind words and memory.

        Tom (Still doing Operations) Shannon

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