This semester, I'm taking a course on management. One of our first projects was to think of a great manager we've worked with and describe what made that person so special. While a number of people in the class sadly had a hard time thinking of anyone, one person did come to my mind.
As a young person, I'd always been fairly average. My grades were ok but not great - mostly Bs. I participated in a few extra-curriculars, but was never the star. I stayed out of trouble (for the most part) and did what was asked of me. Average - and average was ok.
As an undergraduate history student, I fell into a position at the university archives. It was my job to process the backlog of archival materials that hadn't yet made it into the library's automated catalog. And this I did as best I could. It wasn't long before my work had earned praise from the archivist who remarked at how quickly and accurately I was able to do the job. Really? I thought. Me? Gee, that's nice to hear.
As time went on, the praise continued. And the more it did, the harder I tried, and more importantly, the more I took on. New projects were accepted with pleasure and eventually sought out. With the praise (and constructive criticism when needed), always came the credit. My name was consistently added to reports along with a description of the work I'd done. Somewhere on this journey came the realization that maybe I could be something more than average.
Although it was long ago, I still look to this experience as one of, if not the defining moment in my career (even though it didn't really become a career until after graduate school). Several cliches run through my mind about learning to fly, but what this mentor taught me was something more. He didn't just encourage me to fly - he helped me to realize that I even had wings at all. That's pretty powerful stuff.
It's amazing what a healthy dose of respect and appreciation can inspire in someone. Now that I'm a manager, I'll try to keep that in mind. Shouldn't be too hard since I work with a very talented group of people.