Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Choose your words wisely

Many years ago a fellow editor at a magazine was leaving to become the editor in chief of another publication, and he asked me to go with him and become his No. 2.

I declined, telling him my plan for advancement where I was. "Oh they will never let you do that," he said. Not only did they let me do that, they let me do a whole lot more.

But I've never forgotten his words.

Douglas R. Conant has been around the corporate world. He is non-executive chairman of Avon Products and chairman of the Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute. He is a CEO of Campbell Soup Company.

He's had his moments of momentous words, which he has termed "touchpoints," and he writes about them in a Harvard Business Review blog.
Shortly after I graduated, I accepted a job with General Mills. Like many people starting a new job in a new place, I was completely lost in the building. This older man saw me stumbling around and said, "Young man... you look lost. How can I help?" I asked him if he could help me find my way back to the marketing department. He pointed the way and said, "So you work in the marketing department. If there is one thing that I want to leave you with is that you've got to give it all you've got." We then went our separate ways. Ultimately, I saw this man's picture a couple of weeks later and discovered that he was Jim McFarland, the CEO and Chairman of General Mills. Those five words inspired me to lean into my work with greater intensity. I carry them with me today.
The touchpoints weren't all positive.
I was to receive feedback from my boss's boss. In this case, he had written six words down on a piece of paper to be read to me. Those words were, "You should look for another job." This was the first performance review I had received in my life and my boss's boss, whom I thought was a god, just told me to go look for another job. He wasn't inclined to give me the time of the day or the benefit of the doubt. I was devastated and very anxious but ultimately I played through it. 
Of course we give and receive powerful words outside of the workplace.
I persevered through some difficult times as I was starting up my career and I was promoted to Product Manager at General Mills in a very timely way. Within 48 hours of that promotion, I received a call from my wife's grandfather, Mr. R. T. Johnstone. R.T., a man I admired greatly, said, "I'm so proud of you." Those five words of encouragement reminded me that I was not alone on this journey, as difficult as it was. My family was, is and will always be with me. Those words ring in my ears to this day.
The implication for what we say to those who look up to us is obvious. Just remember: they will never let you do that.

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