Eight years ago a junior copywriter joined our ranks. I gave her Max DePree's book for managers, "Leadership Is an Art." Many a newbie through our doors had been gifted this book, but I never had seen anyone devour and embrace the concepts so quickly. We had lively conversations about my leadership role in and outside the agency and her role as employee. Since she was not in a managerial role, but had the desire and aptitude to contribute to the leadership of the company, we dubbed her the "Free Radical." Her ability to portray the agency culture made her one of our best recruiters.
This free radical launched our agency's first blog on marketing to women, and took advantage of our professional development budget by ordering books and attending classes on how to be an account planner (seeing how we had never had one). When we wanted to experiment with flexible hours and virtual office locations, she volunteered, and when we wanted to do something for the community, she suggested a program that allowed employees to take a certain number of days off each year to work with area nonprofits. Perfect.
You're probably wondering what the point of this anecdote is (or where you can find this gal!). The truth is, she doesn't work with us anymore. A year ago, she was wooed by a larger agency. Do I consider this a failure? On the contrary: I owe anyone who joins this agency every opportunity to grow, even to the point of outgrowing us. I am proud to maintain a culture that enables novices to become experts by investing in them, versus expecting complete knowledge right out of the gate.
In his book, DePree claims people who can look beyond their immediate needs are the giants, able to "see opportunity where others see trouble." I've always believed unearthing the best in people or a situation is more constructive (and creative) than just stating the downside (and obvious). Sure, this recruit's paycheck had a different company name at the top, but what did we retain? Our free radical is now an ambassador, sending new talent our way, singing our praises with clients, checking in regularly to see how we're doing and expressing continued gratitude. The knowledge she passed on to our employees has been invaluable. She continues an open dialogue with many of them, pointing out that working to live is not a dream.
It's something I could stand to be reminded of daily.