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Letters to a Young Manager

You Can Be Anything You Want To Be, #4
LTYM > Managing People -- How to Begin

Dear Sophie,
Congratulations on making that first milestone on the new project. The pizza and beer bash for the troops sounds like it was well received. Telling your staff how proud you are about their accomplishments is really important to building a successful team. It reminds me of another story from high school.

This is the one story that arguably had the most influence on my college years and beyond. After my junior year in high school I had had my fill of honors classes. Despite great grades and high NY Regent’s exam scores, I was feeling as if I just didn’t fit with this crowd. So I elected to take the regular Math and English classes my senior year rather than the AP-Honors classes. Truth be told, I was tired and my confidence about running the fastest academic race I could was waning.

I had Mrs. Mandrakia for twelfth grade English. She was a breath of fresh air: passionate, excited, and positive. (Do these sound like good manager traits?) She was also a strong believer in causes and the political process. I remember she took a week off to join the protest march against the Vietnam War in Washington, DC - the fall of 1969. We were very impressed.

Mrs. Mandrakia selected Antigone for the Greek play we would study in the fall. The play was about an act of civil disobedience for what the heroine believed in. It was a moving play. The parallel between Antigone and Mrs. M. standing up for what she believed in was not lost on us.

I remember writing a term paper about the play. I don’t remember a word I wrote or what point of view I took. I do remember handing in the paper, bound in a clear plastic cover with one of those slide-on plastic binders. When she took the paper, she paused, took off her glasses, looked me in the eyes and said with an intensity and conviction I will never forget: “Do you know you can be anything you want to be?" It was that sincerity and belief in me that gave me back my confidence and spurred me on to great things. A simple statement of belief in me—and I vividly remember it 35 years later.

Don’t miss any opportunity to tell your people how great they can be. Have faith in them. It is the most powerful, most lasting thing you can do as a manager. Remember that.



Have faith in your employees

Discussion Questions:

1) Who believed in you the most? What difference did it make?
2) Does your manager believe in you? What would they need to do to convince you?

For Further Reading:

See "We're Going to Be Great Writers," Letter #2

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