Shopping for my first suit was an experience in humility that will stay with me forever, and one that has (oddly enough) helped to shape the leader that I am today.
A number of years back, I had left a job with a clear career track to follow a new path. As I approached graduation from a 10-month intensive course in HR, it occurred to me that I should put my big-girl-pants on and buy a suit for my pending internship and job interviews.
I earned enough during this time to keep a roof over my head and not much else. As you can appreciate after months of stretching every dollar, I wasn’t at my sharpest. My shoes were scuffed, my jeans a little threadbare and my hair had been cut precisely six months prior because it took a back-seat to paying bills. I lived in a leaky basement that flooded each spring and had spiders the size of canaries.
When it came time to head out to the mall to purchase my suit, I probably looked a step above destitute, but it was a look I inhabited out of necessity.
If you haven’t lived in that place, you should try it; it’s a lesson in character.
With my best manners in tow and a flimsy confidence, I walked into two stores where I had two extremely different experiences.
The first store was fashionable and clothed the edgy-trendsetters of the world.
Looking dishevelled, I walked in and approached suits not knowing what to expect: I was obviously out of my element. The salesperson glowered with disapproval when I asked how their absurd sizing worked, as though it was obvious that one should subtract 30 sizes to get to the actual size.
I was obviously a Neanderthal.
I moved on to the dressing rooms and when the blazer didn’t fit, looked for the salesperson only to find her behind the desk talking to another employee about something far more important than me. We made eye contact and I pointed that I needed help…and two minutes later she hadn’t moved. I left the store dragging my pride behind me. I live, breathe and sleep customer service, and I have never been back.
My second experience couldn’t have been more different.
With my confidence shot and necessity driving my trudge into a second “fancier” store, I was greeted by a wonderful salesperson who sensed my discomfort and actively sought to make me feel at home. Asking questions about my budget, preferences and what I needed the suit for, she had me in and out of the store feeling like a million (very thankful) bucks in 20 minutes and with a suit that was considerably more expensive than the one at the other store.
And I paid gladly and thankfully for my experience, and for someone who took time to recognize my value and treat me like a person. I went back over and over to buy all the suits for my future jobs.
Here’s my point: how you treat people matters.
Not just a little bit, not just sometimes, and not just when it’s convenient.
All the time.
It’s easy to forget what it felt like to be the little guy when you’ve been away from it for a while, but it’s important to remember the times that people made you feel small so you can avoid that trap once you’ve arrived.
My message for Leaders: we have a responsibility.
Study after study has shown that the old-school autocratic, hierarchical, self-important way of managing only works for so long. Our responsibility is to remember what it felt like to be small and vulnerable, to be starting out with nothing but your name, and to encourage greatness and confidence in others. My suit story might be a simple example, but confidence and success often originate from surprising places.
Your prestige and importance is an illusion, but how you make people feel and how hard they want to work for you is real. You can sit behind the counter and roll your eyes, or you can get into the trenches with your up-and-comers, invest in them and help them grow. It’s your job as a leader to care about your people and their professional and personal health.
Five years down the line the person you couldn’t give the time of day to might be a key customer, a potential employee or a competitor. And let me tell you, that person will remember you and will treat you accordingly.
Kindness and sincerity never go out of style.
Cheryl Krestanowich is a Talent Acquisition Specialist at Acuity HR Solutions where she executes on clients’ staffing needs by matching them with top candidates. For more information about Acuity HR, visit https://acuityhr.ca