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Managing People and “The Rest of the Story”
Managing People and “The Rest of the Story”
StevenDouglas Lessons in Leadership Series
By: Anthony J. Pami, CPA
For good portions of the past 28 years, I’ve been asked to “manage” people. First in my Finance & Accounting career at KPMG, then Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, and ADP afterward that. In my current work with StevenDouglas, that “management” looks a little different, working with clients and interim associates who assist those clients. Nowadays, I’m often asked about “managing people” and what success in that area looks like.
My first reaction is that the use of the language “managing” is unfortunate – it sounds a bit impersonal, doesn’t it? So instead, I’m inclined to nudge clients towards the “people” part of that phrase and begin with advising that they take more time and offer greater attention to the “people” they are managing, starting with their STORY.
During World War II, radio broadcaster Paul Harvey created an on-air segment in which he would present stories of little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects. He would weave these details into the story and into the living rooms of homes across the country while holding back the identity of the main subject until the very end. That revelation at the end would be exactly that, a revelation, an epiphany that left listeners surprised and enlightened. As Harvey would conclude in only the way he could, that was the “Rest of the Story.”
Paul Harvey has me wondering and thinking about the “rest of our story” and how it relates to managing people. I don’t mean “the rest” as in the life yet to be lived, or goals yet to be accomplished. I’m referring to all the parts and pieces, all the history and complexity, the joy and sorrow that we don’t know about someone. We speak of time as our most precious commodity, often in the sense that, to maximize it, we need to MOVE – GO – PRODUCE – BE EFFICIENT!
But what if our greatest use of time is the attention that we give to one another? What if our ATTENTION to time translates into our INTENTION with respect to listening to and knowing the “rest of the story” of those we live with, work with, and we encounter every day in our homes, workplaces, and in all the places we go?
The poet Mary Oliver writes this:
“Here’s a story, and you don’t have to visit many houses to find it. One person is talking, the other one is not really listening. Someone can look like they are but they’re actually thinking about something they want to say, or their minds are just wandering. Or they’re looking at that little box people hold in their hands these days. And people get discouraged, so they quit trying. And the very quiet people, you may have noticed, are often the sad people.”
In my experience, the “sad” people often present as the dissatisfied, the unhappy, or even angry people too. But whatever it may be, no matter how it may play out, whether it’s sadness, discontent, anger, quiet despair or a deep dissatisfaction masquerading as a reckless non-stop party, there are human beings all around us desperately seeking to have their story heard. Brothers, friends, sisters, A-listers and B-teamers who all would love to be listened to, and whose story adds value and context to the person you think you know.
My teen-age daughter Elisabeth works part-time in a local Dunkin Donuts. She shared with me that a woman came into the store, placed her order, and then proceeded to tell her, as Elisabeth describes it, “her life story.” No doubt, she’s exaggerating some but not entirely. An adult woman walks into a Dunkin Donuts and confesses elements of the “rest of her story” to a 16-year-old stranger! She’s desperate to be heard. She needs people to know more of her story and for someone to fuss and fret over the details because of the “rest of the story” matters.
Last week, in the midst of recruiting for an accounting resource for my client, I spoke to a woman who had, upon first blush, a difficult first and last name to pronounce. She went by a simpler/shortened version of her full name which was a relief to my awkward pronunciation skills, but I asked her if she could pronounce her full name for me (so that I could do the same accurately). She did (in a fluid and lovely manner), to which I responded, “what’s your background?” She replied, “I’m Russian, but don’t hold it against me.”
I would like to think that she knew I would NOT hold that against her, but she still felt as if she had to say it, nonetheless. Why did she? Because we do hold LOTS of things against people. We assume – we label – we judge, and we don’t take the time to know the “rest of the story.” Part of the rest of her story included having a sister named Lisa (so do I) and, like my sister, she spends a good amount of her free time, fostering and rescuing dogs. Through my conversation with her, I learned that she has a great energy and spirit about her, an energy and spirit she puts not only in her personal passion but in her career work as well. My client thought so too. She begins working for them this week.
Mary Oliver writes of the people living in our houses. And then there are the people that walk into the Dunkin Donuts on any given Sunday. And there’s my new dog-loving, energetic interim associate who says, “she’s Russian,” but she’s a whole lot more than that, isn’t she?
There are those we love, those we know well, and those we’ve yet to meet or perhaps think we know. And there are a whole bunch of folks we assume to know, some of which are in our workplaces, working beside us, or perhaps people we are “managing” that we may have never asked the right questions to really know at all.
So, how about this idea: Today, tomorrow, sometime this week – whether you are with the one you love, at the check-out counter at your local Dunkin Donuts, or in the middle of your workday with your colleagues, business partners, or those you “manage”; How about taking the time to ask them some questions that really matter:
- What is bringing them joy and sorrow TODAY?
- What they are GRATEFUL for?
- Ask about WHO they are, WHERE they came from, WHAT growing up was like for them.
- What would ENERGIZE them at work?
- What are they PASSIONATE about in their personal life?
What if we all spend some extra time this week getting to know the “rest of the story” of the people in our midst – literally all around us. The lesson is when you stop to ask the right questions, you learn the key to that whole “managing people” thing begins with a simple question about who they are.
If you have more questions on managing people or some of the right questions to ask during the hiring process, please feel free to reach out to me anytime. I always love chatting, meeting new people and learning their story!
Anthony J. Pami, CPA, Client Service Director – Interim Services
Call 973.975.5805 or E-mail: [email protected]