It must have been about five years into the beginning of my journey in PR. I was sitting behind a press registration desk with a thunderstorm of an expression on my face. “How much longer will I have to sit at these desks handing out press releases and making lists of who attended?” This is not why I had got into PR. Having done an MA in Economics and then an MBA, I wanted to be shaping strategies. Consulting. Building brands.
“What happened Dey?” Asked a senior colleague of mine, let’s call him Danny. He was and is one of the nicest, kindest and smartest people I know. I was lucky to have Danny as a mentor and friend. He used to keep telling me how any task I am given, I should bring my special ‘Dey brand’ to bear on it.
So I decided to give him a dose of his advice. With a heavy dose of sarcasm I said to Danny “Do tell me how I can bring my special brand to this media registration desk duty? “
He thought for a minute and then told me to get up from the chair and go stand on the side. In the next seven minutes Danny proceeded to transform that space.
The cardboard boxes of media gifts that were lying carelessly behind the desk were the first to go. A table cloth was arranged and under the table they went. Next the pencils that were lying strewn on the table were sharpened and put in a lovely holder. The press kits lying in uneven piles were arranged in a fan shape. I could go on, but you get the drift. In under seven minutes, a lifelong lesson was taught to me. With a smile Danny said to me, that’s how you put the “Dey brand” on any task you take up.
It’s easier to find error and add your criticism than add to the effort.
For every Danny, there is a Fanny. Actually, I think the Fannie’s have fanned out and are much easier to find than the Danny. Let me introduce you to Fanny who would be quick to find fault “ Page 32 there was a typo”. “Slide 3 has the wrong font.” “There is no big idea.”
There were many senior colleagues I learnt things from over the years. A host of them who were extremely good at pointing out what I had not done well. Somehow in the workplace we seem to make ‘spot the mistake’ a hallmark of what a boss does or needs to do. Find the mistake. Point the mistake out to the team in a show of prowess. This has become boss work. In some cases it is even marvelled at. “I don’t know how he does it, he can spot the mistake in seconds…. Amazing.”
While I believe all these problem spotters have added to my journey and taught me much, my inspiration has come from learning moments like the press desk and Danny. Spotting the success, the job well done, and creating an environment of reinforcing the positive, is a much more powerful way of nurturing talent and giving life to ideas. Showing the way, rather than spotlighting the mistake, is such a powerful way to share knowledge.
I repeat, it’s easier to find error and add your criticism than add to the effort.
As we set sail into the adventure of 2020, a good time as any to remind myself and all of you, to add to the effort. To stop spotting problems and to start also solving them, with the team. For the team. In service of the client.
Danny played a huge role in helping me stay mentally strong. He showed me how to weather the storms that this crazy and fun 24X7 PR career thrusts us into. He always had a hug to give. A kind word of encouragement to share. A helping hand to spare and a quiet smile of reassurance. “you can do it Dey” he used to say. Thank you Danny, you are still the voice in my head, even though you probably don’t know it.
Don’t get me wrong Danny was not all mister nice guy. I remember a time when I missed a deadline on submitting minutes of the meeting, (which was 24 hours from the time the meeting ended). The dressing down I got, in Danny’s nice, calm but fierce way, is one I have not forgotten till date. He would call me out on occasion and say “Dey, you have not put in the effort required, this is not up to the mark” when it was needed. A wonderful reminder that it’s possible to be assertive without getting aggressive or angry.
That’s the tight rope walk of being a good boss. Sometimes being the helping hand. Sometimes letting go of the hand and showing the team they can fly. Go be a Danny to someone this year, there are enough Fannies (critics) out there.
Advice I tweeted to the world a while ago “Be kind. It’s cool to be kind. #KindaCool.”