Wednesday, November 27, 2013

One of my mentors

A friend and I are sending each other writing prompts. Last week's was to write about mentors...I listed all the mentors I've had in my life and what gifts they lived and helped cultivate in me. Then I wrote about one interaction, or season, with one of them.

My list of mentors filled up a whole page. I chose to focus on the one person in my career who is the most responsible for shaping my career and helping me to believe in my own skills and former boss, Mike Payne.
With the first team of leaders I managed as RPM
 (and Chris as a baby), 1997

When I first met Mike, he sat in my office and tried to convince me to apply for the newly created position of regional publications manager (RPM). He also told me that, should I be hired, he wanted me to create “document production centers” in just a few offices, eliminating the local staff centers we had to meet our clients’ publications needs. I told him right away that I did not agree with this approach.

I was only 31 and had been with the firm for not quite 6 years. Mike must have heard something about me, because he strongly encouraged me to apply for the position. For some reason, he had confidence in me and recognized my potential. I’m not sure why! I was intimidated by the prospect of this new position in a huge, recently created region—I would be managing staff in five offices who had never worked together and some who would not be happy about me being in the position.

At a management team dinner
After I finally decided to put my name into the ring (spurred on by other male mentors who encouraged me to give it a shot), I went up to Seattle for the interviews. I had two competitors: one, a proposal manager from Corvallis who had more work experience than me but no supervisory experience, and second, the document production manager from the Seattle team, Elaine. She was overly friendly. I spent much of the day with her, and she talked about the job (to her team and me) as if it were already hers…a done deal.

The hiring process consisted of intimidating, grueling panel interviews with eight business development managers. I felt in over my head, so young and inexperienced compared to the others. Fortunately Mike stayed with me during this process, so at least I knew one other person. I didn’t feel particularly confident after the interviews, so I was surprised to hear that I’d been chosen for the job.

Many years later with the Seattle team, who grew to like me! :)
The week after I was selected, I flew to Denver to meet the other RPMs. One of them told me that I was crazy for taking on such a huge job, and she wouldn’t have wanted the job herself. I made many trips to the Seattle office, where I had to deal with disgruntled staff (who were upset that their manager had not been selected). Mike dealt with Elaine, who was furious that she had not been selected for the job and predicted that I would fail! She had to be asked to leave the firm because of her poor attitude. Soon I had to lay off three of the eight graphic designers in Seattle, the first time I’d ever done a layoff. Mike actually did most of the work. I was grateful for his guidance and the fact that I didn’t have to do it on my own, even though I dealt with the fallout.

Team dinner
We never did create those document production centers, in spite of Mike’s initial plans. He knew that I would always speak my mind and let him know exactly what I thought…sometimes I made a pain in the ass of myself, I’m sure. But I always felt that he valued this in me. He knew I would do everything I could to act with integrity. This could be difficult when I had to implement decisions I disagreed with (like outsourcing our repro operations to Xerox and then IKON) or having to do layoffs. Mike supported me as best as he could, and I always knew he’d be there for me if I called with a question or needed assistance.

Mike holding baby Chris--
Mike looked happy but I think he was terrified!
Several months after I took on the RPM position, I went into premature labor with Chris and was thrown into crisis. Even though he was a childless bachelor, he was the best boss I could have asked for during that difficult time of my life. Chris was actually born on Mike’s birthday, but I didn’t even know that for a couple of years. He seemed to recognize that when someone is in crisis, it’s important not to make it all about you. I went back to work part time when Chris was in the NICU, and when he finally came home I took three months off. I will forever be grateful for his extreme support and compassion during this time of my life.

Mike has always been able to understand the big picture, and he taught me not to sweat the small stuff. He has a wonderful sense of humor and fun, even though he worked too hard and didn’t have much of a social life when he was working. Now he’s retired and I think he’s discovered his social life.

I worked for Mike off and on for several years. Over the years he advocated for significant raises for me because he valued talent over years of experience. He recognized and nurtured my skills and was concerned about my job satisfaction. He wanted me to feel challenged and satisfied in my work. I also appreciated the fact that although he was a finance and numbers guy, he seemed to value my skill with words. Later in both of our careers, he had me edit some highly confidential and sensitive communications. Although our skillset was different, one thing we do share is a warm, friendly personality and strong people skills. Of all the people I've worked for, he is the one whose people and management skills are most like mine. 

At a gathering to celebrate one of the times
 Mike moved on (out of his position)
He also taught me that change is inevitable, and the best way to survive changes is to maintain positive relationships with everyone and keep your head afloat…and try not to let it get you down. Long before my RPM role of several years changed significantly, Mike’s bosses and responsibilities had changed several times. He tried to prepare me for what else I could do in my career. Once he asked me what I’d like to do if I could do any other job, and I said “internal communications.” I also discovered an interest in sustainability and environmental management while working for Mike--our management team was the first one to pilot a new environmental program in the company. Guess what I’m doing now? Internal and external communications with a focus on sustainability and environmental management. So I owe him for planting that seed in my head.

He was the best boss I ever had, and I will always miss working for him, no matter who my bosses are in the future. I am deeply grateful for his mentoring and leadership. 

1 comment:

  1. Marie, this is interesting to hear about Mike from your perspective. I didn't necessarily see that side of him, although I didn't really work directly with him. Also trying to remember who is Elaine! (Did you change a name?). Not ringing a bell. Glad Mike was such a good mentor. Did he ever marry? Didn't he move to Denver? My goodness you are prolific with your entertaining blog! And all those followers! Mine has never really managed to get that much traction although I enjoy doing it.