Which comes first? Talent or Belief?

This is the first of a series of posts dedicated to those who helped shape a major portion of who I’ve become at this point in my life. Melissa Lobozzo, this one’s for you. 

Which comes first? Talent or Belief? 

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In 2004 I became a Property Manager for Paradigm Properties, and my first Regional Manager was Melissa. Up to this point I’d been in the business for three years in a number of supporting roles, but this was my first ship and I had a lot to learn. As green as I was, Melissa saw talent in me and taught me one of the most important lessons I’d ever learn. 

With an upcoming company conference to be held in Savannah, the powers-that-be were looking for Leaders to conduct training sessions on areas important to company culture. Melissa nominated me to teach a segment on Team Building. At first, I was extremely honored, and then came the inevitable fear that I had no idea what the hell I was talking about. Fake it? No thanks. I’d had tight teams, but I was at a loss at that moment to sum up exactly how I’d done it. Was it accidental?

I went to her some weeks later and told her I had nothing. I’d read a ton of books on the matter in that short window, and tried to couple them with what I already knew but so far I hadn’t been able to put together a cogent theory on Team Building. Maybe I should pass and let someone else have a crack it. Maybe I didn’t have it, maybe it wouldn’t be any good. What could I tell 80 of my colleagues, most of whom were my senior, that would get them to do more than yawn?

She looked me square in the eyes and told me that I was talented, that I did this stuff every day and that she was confident I could come up with something that would provide a benefit. She knew me and had every faith I would do well. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I still left scared, but a little less so, and with newfound determination that I didn’t want to let her down. She’d given me a good reputation to live up to – even if I hadn’t fully earned it yet. That’s a gift you have to earn after the fact, and the price for not doing so is steep. 

Leaving her office I knew what the essence of leadership was. It was the same stuff Michael Jordan was doing when he would tell Steve Kerr that he’d be the one to hit the game winning shot, not Jordan. Kerr would believe it, because he believed in him. She did this all the time that first year – providing the right amount of praise and positive reinforcement with an equally deserved amount of (well deserved) criticism. Trusting her wasn’t a question, she told me the truth all the time! 

I put together that presentation and it was incredibly well received. It focused on exactly that sort of stuff: Positivity! Energy! Bringing everyone together towards a common goal, and it was back stopped by the “Fish!” video about the Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle. You know, where they throw fish at each other and sing songs about all of their wonderful mongering. It was only a fifteen minute session, done six times over so it didn’t have to be Les Miserables, and everyone was appreciative for something other than dull recitation of bullet points. 

After that, I took all the lessons I learned from Melissa and tried to incorporate them into myself: Selflessness, determination, courage, being a servant-based leader who exists to make their people better, one who provides a shared goal and gets everyone involved in how to get there.

In the ten years hence these traits have proven invaluable beyond count, but the biggest was that one little thing. Did she really believe I wouldn’t screw it up? Did she really think I had the talent to do it? I think so, but the good reputation she gave me that day was the thing that made that presentation possible, and a whole host of other things I went on to do, possible as well. 

I know I was a tough student, and lord knows there were days when I’m sure Melissa wondered if I had the sense God gave an aardvark. Actually, that’s probably insulting to aardvarks, but it is a testament to her belief that she could get through and get me to believe the same things about myself that she had glimpsed. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. 

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