Professional Altruism: How One Leader Inspired My One-on-Ones with my Own Team

When I first started out as a team lead, my one-on-one's with my new team members were very templated.

It's Nice to Meet You

This is the type of things you'll be working on

I'll be here to support you every step of the way

I can't imagine running those intiial meetings anymore. They were expected, boring, and non-inspirational. What I lacked was the spark of an empathetic relationship that coaches should build from day one. I didn't quite know how to run these meetings until I was assigned to a new VP a few years later. He taught me the foundations of that spark in a 30-minute discussion.

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At my first one-on-one with my new VP, he sat me down and asked me a very simple question:

What's your career aspiration?

Focus Your 1-1's On Your Teammates... Not on You, and Certainly Not on "Things"

My new VP turned the focus on me. Not on the work we'll be doing. Not on process. He wanted to get to know me.

He gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to him. He then pressed on the types of work I like to do, and the types of work I'm interested in doing. As we dived into what I liked to do, the discussion slowly turned into a discovery session on my own career objectives, and I was learning things about myself as much as he is learning about me. 

I remember telling him that I like being a 'do-er', but I have aspirations of growing and leading a team. The next question he asked made me pause and reflect:

Why? Why do you want to lead a team?

Understand Motivation Behind the Aspiration

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His question made me stop my train of thought. I've always been asked what I wanted to achieve, but never why. I honestly had no answer prepared, and he stayed silent waiting for an answer from me. 

I talked it out with him. We went on a journey to discover why I wanted to lead together. I wanted to build a team because I felt I had a natural inclination of helping others grow and inspiring a team to achieve more than the sum of its parts. The entire discussion on "why" was enlightening, empowering, and soul-cleansing.

Asking why is an incredibly powerful way to self-analyze the motivation behind our aspirations. It helped my VP understand me as a human being. More importantly, he knew exactly how to motivate me going forward because he knows exactly what buttons to push that will get me excited and inspired to do my absolute best.

At this point, we were closing on our 30-minute time allotment. He then closed with an assertion that I'll never forget:

Whatever you aspire to be, even if it is my job, I'll help you get there.

Inspiring Others Sometimes Mean You May be Out of a Job in a Couple of Months...

He drove home the point that he was here to help me grow, and he was determined not to let anything, even his own position, to get in the way.

The most amazing part of our discussion was how genuine he was about his approach. He wasn't paying me lip service, or setting up his team for a game of inter-office politics. His offer can only be described as next-level professional altruism, and there aren't a lot of leaders who are willing to commit to growing others in lieu of their own job. 

Words Mean Nothing Without Action

Over the next weeks and months, he and I had weekly meetings, impromptu chats, and after-work drinks where we gave each other honest feedback. His assessments of me came in the form of a firehose, which seemed brutal at first, but I came to realize as uncomfortable as these discussions may be, it was the way I wanted to communicate with him. I learned to appreciate blunt feedback without sugarcoating, and he knew how to dole it out.

Every day he helped me guide my team with integrity and inspiration. I realized his advice and intervention is his way of bringing his words into action. 

I eventually left that company to take up a new opportunity, so I never did take over his role. Nonetheless, I was so inspired by his professional altruism from our first 30 minutes together that I now do the same with my own team. It's my way of paying it forward, and my attempt to be the best leader I can be.