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  • Writer's pictureBruce Langevin

Learning From My Big Miss

It has been a few weeks of life lessons for me. In some ways hard lessons – but good lessons.

My screen sprang to life as people joined the virtual meeting I was invited to. As each small square was populated with either a live face or avatar, along with first names, I took note that I knew two-thirds of those in attendance. The discussion centered around the future of work and what the workplace may look like as we come out of the current pandemic.

Most of the attendees were senior, and I was pleasantly surprised with the thoughtful and informed discourse, especially from a faceless square at the top center of my screen, with the name Lisa in the bottom right-hand corner. Lisa shared actions they had undertaken in her organization to ensure attention was paid to the physical and mental well-being of their employees, and the absolute necessity that those measures remained in place moving forward.

As she put it, we needed to “ensure the lessons of COVID informed a workplace that was better than pre pandemic.”

Then it hit me – I had met Lisa before.

Lisa was a third-year sociology student at the time. She sat across from me, more than 15 years ago, as I interviewed her for a co-op position in our department. She was bright and articulate, and exactly the type of individual we were looking to invest time in as we recruited our workforce of the future. We were considering adding Lisa to the team responsible for delivering funding programs to a specific segment of the Canadian population. There were no big surprises during the interview, and I had made up my mind that this young lady needed to join our team. As I drew the interview to a close, I asked Lisa a somewhat standard question: “Is there anything you’d like to ask me?”

Lisa looked across the desk at me and responded, “Actually, I do have a question. How is what we will be doing here making the world a better place?”

No one had ever asked me that question before, and I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback. Not because of the question, but because I knew I did not have an adequate answer. To be completely honest, I did not have an answer whatsoever—I had never really thought the question through.

Over the next 15 years, potential employees have asked similar questions in a variety of different ways, and I was far better equipped to respond, but this was the first time, and I just did not have an answer.

When all was said and done, Lisa decided to thank us for our offer, but took work for a different organization. I never really found out whether my inability to respond to her question properly was the turning point in her decision, but what I did learn was that her question should not have come as such a surprise to me.

As early as November 2005, leading-edge research was indicating that 61% of Millennials born between 1981 and 2000 felt personally responsible for making a difference in the world.[i] I should have known that, and I did not.

15 years later and the research confirms that little has changed specific to social responsibility. Those of us in positions of leadership today need to embrace that fact very quickly.

Three-fourths of our teams, regardless of their size, will continue to feel that same responsibility to impact the world for the better.

Here she was, 15 years later, and confirming my initial impression. She was bright and articulate, and exactly the type of individual we should have recruited into our workforce of the future at the time – but we lost out because I was ill-prepared – My Big Miss! She had navigated through the ranks quickly and was now positioned to influence her workplace of the future. What was most striking to me though, was that she remained driven by the same principles and passions she shared with me in her question “how is what we will be doing here making the world a better place?” more than 15 years ago.

Did I mention a few weeks of life lessons? This one was hard but important.

Here are my 3-principal takeaways:

1. Be Ready

As leaders, our most valuable assets are our people, and we demonstrate our commitment to that truth by the effort expended in investing in them. Here was a bright intelligent woman who would have been a welcomed addition to any organization. We could have had the privilege of working with her, but I was not ready – someone else was!

2. Make Every Interaction Count

Of course we have unexpected encounters, but my initial introduction was planned, and I was not fully prepared. Especially in today’s environment, with so much competition for the top talent, if we mean what we say about wanting the best, we need to ensure we make every interaction count by being prepared. Our preparedness as leaders sends the message that they are important and valued.

3. Embrace Personal Teachable Moments

In the past, I had written about my experience in missing out on hiring Lisa. And to be honest, it was the catalyst to a change in the way I plied my leadership craft. This encounter, after some 15 years, was such a powerful reminder to learn from my misses and to embrace them as ways to better myself as a leader.

If you are reading this post, you are second on the list of people I have shared with. I called Lisa, re-introduced myself and thanked her for being part of teaching me such a valuable lesson. Not surprisingly she had some incredible insights to share.

I may have missed out on having her join my team, but I would be equally privileged to join her team – any time!


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