Want to be a better employee? Sit next to your boss

Now Brewing: Chameleon Cold-Brew. Love this stuff more than words could begin to describe. Since I’m on a Whole30 right now (actually going for 100 days this round!) I’m sticking to the basic Black brew.

“Oh great, an organizational change,” I remember thinking when I read the email that our team would soon have a new leader. “Oh crap,” I remember being my second thought when I realized my new boss sat in the cube directly to my left – because does anyone really like sitting next to their boss?

[Author’s note: Following another couple organizational changes, I now again sit next to a new boss and guess what? It’s not too bad.]

I didn’t know it that day as I read the new organization email, but my new boss would teach me more about career mindfulness and how to set (and achieve) real goals in the workplace than ten and half years of schooling, and 24 years of life had yet to do. Bit-by-bit, day-by-day over the next two years, my new boss, Jenn would show me how I could take charge of my own career path – even if not always from just a cube away (my boss ended up moving into an office down the hall shortly after the re-organization.)

Over the next couple months, I began to realize that beyond just being the person who approved my timesheets each week, Jenn committed to truly getting to know me and the rest of her team. She often came around to the cubicles of my colleagues and I to hear about our weekends or vacations, manage any current challenges we were facing or to dissect the latest The Walking Dead episode. She took the time to remember our likes (in my case – a love of Starbucks Peppermint Mochas translated to a package of VIA Peppermint Mocha) and invite us to regular lunches to catch up both personally and professionally.

I remember that as I started to focus more on doing regular Whole30s, Jenn even started keeping LaCroix seltzer waters and Larabars on hand in her office for when I’d join her for conference calls. Whether taking note of my writing goals and helping me find appropriate assignments to always making time to come around to the desks of her team to check in, no matter how busy her own schedule got – I felt genuinely cared about and interested in, and my colleague Lisa felt the same.

“While I knew from the start that Jenn was very intelligent and capable, it really struck me during my performance review how much she cared about the success of others, and how much attention she paid to the work of those around her,” she shared.

“Here was a supervisor truly advising me on my goals based on where my strengths were, and what I liked to do, at the same time with an eye toward my growth and development.”

Not only did Jenn take the time to get to know Lisa and I on a personal level, she also made it a priority to help us reach our long-term career goals and lead us on our journeys. Because my boss and I worked on the same type of sales pursuits, we had the opportunity to work closely together. Always the first to raise her hand to volunteer when needed and constantly looking for new areas she could pitch in and drive value for our firm, Jenn set a solid example for me about how important taking on new challenges is to career growth. During one of my goal-setting meetings in early 2016, I remember her telling me that even if I didn’t know everything I needed to be successful yet, I should jump in anyway and fake it ‘til I became it.

It was thanks to that philosophy that a few months later, I finally decided to take the leap and transfer to our company’s Denver headquarters. Although walking into Jenn’s office to let her know I’d decided to transfer still remains one of the hardest days of my career so far (see, sitting next to your boss can turn out pretty great), her guidance that encouraged me to follow my instincts toward Denver is something I’ll always be most thankful for. In fact, it’s this philosophy of stretching my comfort zone that led me to my recent move into our corporate marketing group, another decision I am most thankful for Jenn’s support in.

Another colleague, Alicia reflected, “Jenn consistently modeled the behavior of taking risks and a fearless approach to trying new things. I think this ties in nicely to the “fake it ‘til you make it” trait that she led with.

More than on one occasion, that I am aware of, Jenn had been told “no” or was “road blocked” in a situation that would have been characterized as risky by most. I admire that Jenn fearlessly trusted her gut, mindfully pushed forward, and accomplished her goal—even if the outcome was not the same as the original intention.

Case in point: Jenn learned that our company CEO was going to be in our local office to meet with staff, and would then be traveling by train to Chicago for a Women in Transportation conference. Jenn, too, was going to be traveling to the event. She viewed it as a remarkable opportunity to gain insight from a Fortune 100 leader, and approached our CEO’s assistant to ask if they could travel to the event together on the train. The assistant indicated that this request would not be honored.

Many people would take that answer, and the sentiment of “at least I asked!” However, Jenn pressed on. Weeks before the conference Jenn had an opportunity to meet our CEO in person and asked her directly if it would be possible. She agreed and Jenn walked away with the experience. Jenn learned and modeled that sometimes you have to hear “no” before you get to “yes”.

This was not an isolated incident. Though we know that the worst case scenario in any given situation is that the answer is “no” and respond with, “at least I tried” and we leave with a sense of courage and usually some lessons learned. Jenn is excellent at examining these lessons and using them to grow herself. Jenn was recently told “no” at a couple of significant points within her career and then broke through the “no”s by saying “YES” to herself.  I admire her courage to take a risk in leaving her better-paying position at our company for a career that would allow her to grow and earn the “Yes”, which she desired and earned. Jenn took a risk and said “yes” to herself and her career.

Although I so agree with Alicia in complete admiration and pride at Jenn’s decision to continue her career growth at a new company, I can’t help but still feel a bit sad. For a little over a year, I had a boss who gave me challenging work assignments and made sure I knew I was valued and cared about. Perhaps most rare though, I had a boss I considered a friend – and what better outcome could have I asked from that re-organization email almost three years ago?

It’s because of Jenn that I am more confident in myself and my abilities, and am chasing my own career goals relentlessly. Although I know I will miss her greatly at my firm, I feel confident that she’ll continue to lead with respect, wherever her career goes next and I now know that sitting by your boss can be one of the best things you can do for your own career.

One comment

  1. Jenn Lacke · · Reply

    Kathryn, I am speechless. I’m at my desk filled with so much emotion inside – tears swelling. Not because of your (once again, great writing abilities) and not only because I am so proud – but because you always give the glory to others. It’s incredible Alicia, Lisa and you were inspired by me and learned from me – but I must say – right back at you. I learned from each of you as well, and know my skills are forever changed by each of you – in very specific ways. But beside that Kathryn, you’ve always had it in you. If I’m one of the friends who helped bring it out – I’ll be forever proud… but it was easy. The skill, confidence and leadership you have wouldn’t be held in – and is now unleashed for the value of every friend, coworker and company you reach. I too was sad when you went to Denver – but it was a selfish because, after all, you are my work daughter (thank you CBP in Toronto). But the leaps you’ve taken since are only the beginning. And with the Whole100 – you are such an inspiration in not only work but in life as well. You are unstoppable. Glad I’m on your team. What else, you have your basketball bracket in perfect order as well?

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