The good you put into the world often comes back to you

By Jim Grey (about)

In a recent blog post, Johanna Rothman wrote about paying it forward in our careers and in life. (Read it here.) Through paying it forward, she says, we offer people lucky breaks. When others pay it forward, sometimes we get the lucky breaks.

Heslar Naval Armory, IndianapolisI add this: sometimes when you pay it forward, it goes full circle and creates lucky breaks for you. Here’s a story of a time that happened for me.

In my first management role, more than 20 years ago, I got to build a small team from the ground up. I wrote that story here — that team and the work we did remain one of the brightest memories of my career.

I wanted to build the kind of team I’d want to work in — one of transparency and autonomy, where we could do very good work yet go home to our families at a good hour each night.

I hired Mary Ellen first. She lacked the technical skills I was looking for, but was otherwise qualified — and whip smart and deeply resourceful. So I took a gamble and hired her.

She was a home run hire. She picked up every needed technical skill quickly. Her work was nuanced and of impeccable quality. She even helped define team processes that let us run more efficiently and effectively. We couldn’t have done it without her.

The team was quite sad after a few years when I was promoted to a different role and was no longer their manager. It was a great compliment when they told me that our time together had been the best at-work experience of their careers.

That company didn’t make it through the dot-com bust and we all went our separate ways. I wasn’t very good at keeping up with my network then and lost touch with Mary Ellen. Seven years later, I got an email from her. “There’s a leadership role open where I work now, and it looks perfect for you. If you’re interested, I’ll put in a good word with the VP, because I’d love to work with you again.”

I was ready for a change so I interviewed, and I got the job. It was a fabulous role for me and I was very successful in it. The company itself was successful enough that the founders took an exit. I was a late enough hire that my cashed-in stock options didn’t change my life. But the founders and all the VPs ended up being movers and shakers in the startup scene in my area. Those contacts have helped me immeasurably as I’ve continued my career, offering coaching, introductions, and even job offers.

The moral of the story is to treat well the people who work for you! Treat everybody well. You never know when it will come full circle.

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5 thoughts on “The good you put into the world often comes back to you

  1. Cool insight. Paying it forward is one of those laws that’s impossible to prove but also hard to ignore. It’s so important that’s it’s a core way we do business at our incubator, largely because it always works out better for everyone.

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    1. It does work out better for everyone in the long run. It is sometimes hard to make these choices in the short run! Sounds like your incubator does long-run thinking.

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  2. Great read and great reminder Jim. I am so thankful to be able to come to work and solve problems together every day.

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