Posted by: Joe Hoffman | August 4, 2009

My First Management Lesson

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” I received my first meaningful management lesson from what would seem to be an unlikely source.  I was in my first year as a first line manager at Control Data working with a good sized crew of techs implementing our Wall St. real time transaction systems.  My secretary was on vacation and I brought in a “temp” to cover for two weeks.   She was a well spoken, reserved young woman (actually 10-15 years older than I was) who was extremely effective, learning our processes on the first pass.  We worked well together.  On her last day, she presented me with a wooden desk name sign as a gift.  Engraved on the front facing a visitor was my name.  On the backside, facing me was another engraving that read, “The Art of Diplomacy is letting someone else have your way.”

My very first reaction was more than a bit negative but after a few moments, I realized that what she was telling me was important, both professionally and personally.  I had that sign on my desk for many years and still have it around here somewhere today.

Normally I would have jumped on someone for a not so subtle “shot” like that but when I reflected on it, I understood.  At this point in my life I was a self-important hotshot on a fast track.  The youngest manager in the company running the most critical new market penetration effort that we had going.  She and I  had spoken quite a bit and I had learned something about her background.   She was well educated,  holding a Doctorate in Romance Languages and was working at the UN as a French / English translator in the booth as well as on the floor during meetings and receptions and had a great opportunity to observe the good, bad and great diplomats at work.   In my own twisted mind, I took her gift as a compliment.   I was being told that I had something worthwhile but if I fixed my ego problem, who knows what might happen.   I never really “fixed my ego” but I did take the lesson to heart and it paid off well for me.

“The Art of Diplomacy is letting someone else have your way.”

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