Lead to Serve

In 2014, my sales department was unbelievably busy. With the overwhelming number of clients calling us, we were all asked to pitch in and help sprint to the finish line. Only that sprint quickly turned into a marathon, and people’s motivational muscles started to cramp.

Amid the chaos, a colleague of mine had an idea: let’s give people self-development days as a respite from clients, and an opportunity to enhance their professional skills. He needed a partner to help make it happen, and since I have a bit of a reputation for getting things done, he turned to me. Our first challenge was getting buy-in from senior managers. But if we could prove the project’s positive impact, management would explore implementing the idea for 200+ Investment Consultants across all three US locations.

We knew that to impress management, we had to come up with some blockbuster self-development days as examples—reading a few articles about business acumen wasn’t going to cut it. So we turned to our peers and asked them to be part of a small pilot group, coming up with ideas and letting us help turn them into reality. The variety was remarkable: Drew, who’s passionate about coaching, worked with our education center to observe a full day of trainers working with new hires; Pedro attended an event at Villanova University on communicating with humor, followed by a Toastmasters evening to improve his public speaking; Heather discovered a workshop led by Malcolm Gladwell on the powerful impact of small ideas, and presented on the experience to her teammates. Each experience sparked new ideas and inspired new ways to share what we learned with the rest of the department.

Not every development day was a success—some turned out to be mostly a waste of time. But my partner and I were determined create space for our team to take risks and try out ideas—even when we had to answer to opinionated senior leaders. We decided that as long as our pilot team found value in their self-development days, we’d call it a win, even if management decided to not execute the project broadly. But after three months, the results were clear: self-development days boosted morale, encouraged creativity, and improved professional skills. Management decided to pursue implementation for the department at large.

As a text-book overachiever, I sometimes struggle with letting go. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself—right? But my team came up with far better ideas than I could have thought up on my own. And what’s more, I had a blast helping them make their ideas happen. People can exceed my wildest expectations, if I only remember to let them.