Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Tale of Two Leaders, Or Make That One Leader

There are certain things that happen in our lives that are truly the work of God. God puts people into our lives for a reason. He wants to teach us something. It is up to us to recognize it.

In 1999, it was a crazy year in the stock market. Everything was going up. Mostly technology stocks and mutual funds. I remember some mutual funds going up over 200%. At the time, I was working for myself, but was quickly realizing that when the market turns south, which it did, then I would be faced with a frozen consumer marketplace. Meaning, that most clients would be inclined to get out of the market than get into the market. So, I was guided by faith go to work for Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The Branch Manager who hired me quickly moved on and was replaced by this guy who was every bit of 6 foot 6 inches tall. He had more energy than you could ever imagine. He had worked at Schwab for several years and had recently turned around a failing branch in Midland, Texas. He had achieved Chairman's Club on several occasions. Chairman's Club at Schwab was for the elite top ten percent of people who worked at Schwab. He was also the top salesman on the Schwab Bond Desk prior to his becoming a Branch Manager. Reaching these two pinnacles of success were no easy tasks. He did it with ease.

When he came to Little Rock, he found a pretty good team of people already in place. His goal was to make us the best that we can be and to help us attain Chairman's Club.

You see, the real testament to a great leader is when their focus is not on themselves and their own career, but rather on you and your career.

I believed in him and he believed in us. It was not long before he was challenging us at every turn, pushing us to do better and motivating us to be our best. At first, Chairman's Club seemed like a impossible goal to us. You basically had to have four great calendar quarters of bringing in new accounts and assets to achieve it. This meant we had to pretty much exceed our normal quarters by a significant amount. Our Branch Manager keep us focused on that goal.

I wish the rest of my supervisors at Schwab better understood their role as potential leaders. Unfortunately, most of them were more concerned with their own careers.

A true leader should inspire you to do so well that you actually can attain or even surpass the role that they are in. This means that they must be willing to risk their own job in order that you are able to climb the ladder.

Our team made Chairman's Club after that first year and we owed it all to him. He is the one who made us believe in ourselves. He is the one who pushed us towards that goal. It was a great accomplishment for our team. This is how he looked at it. It was all our doing he tried to convey to us. But, we knew. Without him, we never would have accomplished that goal.

I have a picture of him and our Chairman's Club team on my office wall today. Stop by sometime. I will be glad to tell you more.

After my wife's job changed, it was a certainty that we had to move away from our home town, Little Rock. With tremendous help and encouragement, my Little Rock Branch Manager helped me get an interview for the Jacksonville Florida Branch Manager position. He was real instrumental in me landing that job. He pounded the phone line with the Florida RVP, whom he did not know, to help me get that job.

This is what leaders do. They help you move on and up.

To make a long story short, I won the job and turned around the failing Jacksonville Branch Office. I ended up through the closing of other Branch Offices being added to my own, managing the largest geographically dispersed office in the country for Schwab. I had clients from Jacksonville down to Gainesville, over to Tallahassee and even southern Georgia in my territory. It was around a $900,000,000 office when I started and a $1,600,000,000 office when I chose to leave at little over two years later.

I only wish that Schwab had more people like my Little Rock Branch Manager. Unfortunately for me, this turned out not to be the case. I had seven RVP's over the four plus years that I was at Schwab. Every time I turned around, I had a new RVP. Sadly, these people were the opposite of my friend in Little Rock. They were all out for themselves. They were real good at circling their wagons. They knew how to play the game of office politics where you belittle everyone who works for you in a feeble attempt to elevate your own self-esteem. Some of the other Branch Managers were the same way. They knew how to play this game. In my case, it all seemed so insincere and a pointless waste of time to play these office political games. I refused.

I made the mistake of telling my last RVP that I wanted to be an RVP at Schwab someday. That was my mistake. From that point forward, she did everything in her power to make it hard for me. Schwab was going to close the Ponte Vedra Branch and merge it with mine. However, this RVP liked the Ponte Vedra Branch Manager better than me. Little did she know while he was sucking up to her, in reality, he could not stand her. She was so naive. So, this gal decided in her mind that she needed to find a way to get rid of me, so you could appoint her Ponte Vedra guy in my place. This was her somewhat diabolical plan. She had no reason to fire me, so she had to create a scenario to make it easier for her to get away with her plan.

My second to last quarterly target was $46,000,000 in new assets. I think we ended the quarter at like $45,900,000 or so. This RVP figured that she would raise my target to an unreachable amount and then have an easy time of getting away with her plan. She had already been talking to my old RVP's and her boss about me. It was not true the picture she was painting to them, but they believed her stories nevertheless. She was laying the groundwork in advance for the eventual day of reckoning she was sure would take place. She was truly confident in her plan. She thought she was going to "take care" of me easily.

A lack of intelligence is not something that I have a problem with. I could see what she was up to and I knew where she was headed with her plan. She was not ready for the lesson that I was about to teach her however.

Here she came with a new quarterly target of $67,000,000. In one quarter, she jumped my target from $46,000,000 to $67,000,000. This is a 45% increase in my target from one quarter to the next. Almost from day one, she was calling me up on the phone telling how I wasn't going to make it. She relished in what she was doing. She even went so far as to try and get me to fire one of my employees which would have made it even harder to reach this target. She failed to understand who she was dealing with, however.

Again, I am not stupid. I decided that if Schwab really wanted me, then they would fight for me. If they believed her and her lies, then why should I stay at a place like this? There would be no more career at that point. That would be the preverbial glass ceiling. So, what I did was gather my team together and we brought in $81,000,000 in that quarter. I faxed my resignation in to the President of Schwab and said thanks but no thanks. At first, my RVP was able to quickly cover her tracks. She never thought in a million years that I would walk out the door and especially blowing out my quarterly target. My first quarter we did a little over $8,000,000. My last quarter was over $80,000,000. Yet, this RVP would lead you to believe that I was a problem child. Not so. She was the problem. Oh ye of little faith!

It didn't take long for the President to figure out that he should have picked up the phone to call me. Not only did he fire my RVP, but he also fired her boss on the same day, a few months later. The President figured it all out.

If you asked her, she would still probably say that she was without fault and she was doing the right thing. If that was the case, then why did she get fired? She was definitely not the kind of person that should be in a position of authority.

Believe it or not, I still have an occasional email or two with the CEO at Schwab who was the President at the time. He did the right thing by getting rid of her and her boss. I applaud him for that fact. Although, I must say I was a little disappointed in him for not picking up the phone to call me. I am sure he had plenty of more important things on his plate at the time. I hold nothing against him. I have moved on to much better things and I still work with Schwab today. Instead of on the retail side, I work with them on the Advisor Services side. It is much better this way.

So, when you contrast the two styles of managers or supervisors, which one would you prefer? Which one is the real leader? I would take my Little Rock Branch Manager any day over my last RVP. There is simply no comparison.

One manager sacrifices everything to help you in your career while the other tries to destroy your career.

I spoke to my Little Rock Branch Manager yesterday. He has an aggressive form of prostate cancer and is not expected to live more than a year. He still has the same great attitude that he has always had. He jokes around like he has always done. Eternally optimistic. That is him. He is more concerned about me than himself. Even when facing certain death, he wants to know how I am and what is going good in my life. What a gift he is to this world. He is looking forward to spending time with his family this year and he is facing his circumstances in an extremely courageous manner. We should all have his faith, courage and disposition.

I knew God put this man in my life for a reason. He has had an everlasting impact on my life. What a great leader and a great example for all the managers and supervisors in Corporate America to follow. Is your firm made up of people like him? If not, there is no doubt it should be.

One thing that I would love to do is be a outside consultant for Schwab and go around and find the true leaders that are there. Perhaps, even institute a leadership program based on the teachings of my Little Rock Branch Manager. It would be a huge success without a doubt.

I would give my report to the CEO. Mr. CEO, these are the people that should be leaders in your company. The ones like my friend and former Little Rock Branch Manager.