My internship at Amazon started and ended with the best single piece of advice ever.
Take care of your people.
~My manager, on my first and last day
I’ve written about the importance of people so often on here, that it has its own category on Why Mondays. But my commitment to the ideal that people matter was put to the test in a new environment this time.
Up until this point, all of the leadership experiences I’ve had were in insular communities where failure was a disappointment, but not the end of the world. Failure didn’t really touch all that many people.
This time, though, I was in the real world. I was leading a team of employees who saw me as their manager and source of the solutions they needed to actually do their job. I was a source of answers for people above me who needed to know what was going on to make adjustments to their own plans. I was part of a team that made sure that our customers got the packages that they ordered on time.
Failing this time meant failing those who depended on my support for their livelihood–and failing our customers who expect to receive what they got from one of the most innovative e-commerce site in the world. That’s a huge responsibility for a 21-year-old.
Like A Boss
Yet, it’s a responsibility that I took upon myself and was challenged to continuously improve on by my manager. And the one thing I set out to do was to take those words to heart–to truly try to take care of my people. At my disposal, I had a team of facilities crews, mechanical technicians, learning crews, problem solvers, process assistants, other mangers, and the team I was leading.
It was easy enough to come in like a wrecking ball and begin issuing orders and barking demands at people to get things done. But that’s demoralizing. Early on, I had to make the choice of which leadership style I would adopt. Servant Leadership was it.
Am I saying I was perfect in executing it?
NO. Not at all. Pas du tout.
But making that decision to help wherever I could and do everything I could to genuinely listen to people above and below me, treat them equally with respect, and set out trying to solve their problems in an ever-changing, high-pressure environment has taught me valuable lessons about leadership.
The purpose of a manager
Being a manager isn’t about having power over others. It’s not about making decisions that only benefit you or creating pointless and visually appalling pictures to promote synergy or using useless jargon that over-complicates situations. Like this:
Being a manager is about managing–it’s taking the time to get to know the people you work with–above and below you. It’s knowing what everyone expects from you and setting out to accomplish those things. It’s acknowledging that they are your customers just like your firm’s customers are your customers and making the decision to be obsessed with their success.
Being a manager is using your actions to build the trust of every single human being on you team, energizing them, and encouraging working together to face the world.
At Amazon, my purpose was to solve problems that the people I worked with encountered–before they happened, as they happened, after they happened. My job was to support my team so they could be successful at their jobs.
Yes, they got their job assignments from me. I had the power to coach them, and issue write-ups and warnings. Those were tools in my arsenal to be used only as a last-ditch effort. For me, success has and will be defined as the times I can forge a bond with a teammate, and work to solve problems hand in hand.
I’m only 21
I haven’t even hit the perfect age to dress up like hipsters and make fun of my exes.
I’m not perfect. I’ve only had fewer than 10 weeks experience leading a team in the real world. There are many realities I haven’t had to face yet, many mistakes I made, and many lessons left to learn. My point here isn’t that I’m the most qualified person to teach anyone about being a leader, it’s that leaders work for their team rather than the other way around.
My internship began and ended with the single best piece of advice ever. Real leadership–effective management is working with your team to take care of your team.
I intend to perfect that through the course of my life.
Feature Photo by Ståle Grut.
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