As engineering continued to grow, I picked up another direct report with a great team focusing on backend services. While our handcrafted tools were great, we observed companies now offering solutions that were similar, and offered the advantages of “support” and “best practices”. We were thus selecting vendors we could partner with, and establishing long term relationships with. He was leading an initiative to “standardize” our backup software/hardware, and I was very impressed with his attention to detail, his approach to managing that process, and his team, and observed, “Why is this guy not a Director?”
He was the picture of competence, including being tall and handsome, and could command a room, not dynamically, but confidently and humbly. His work was always incredibly well done, and he Persistently stuck to the plans he put together. He also developed great leaders beneath him, mentoring and giving them opportunities to lead. In this case, he was like yesterday’s leader, absolutely clean on evaluating vendors. He and his team developed great selection criteria, observed demonstrations, and then made a recommendation without bias that I was very comfortable with.
Nat continued to be encouraged to focus less on jazz and more on pop vocals. He enjoyed writing music, but again there were so many great songwriters, he became much more the stylist that would craft those into tracks that are Persistent members of the American SongBook. Today’s track is written by the same duo who wrote “Silver Bells”, “Buttons and Bows”, and “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”, along with the theme songs for Bonanza and Mr. Ed 😉 This particular song started as a song for war movie – about a blind accordion player … who wasn’t blind. He observed when German patrols were coming and played tunes to warn the population of the small town of their movements. That movie changed directions, and the tune was scraped…
Eventually, they took it to a different movie soundtrack…. and also pitched it to Nat as something that would be perfect for his voice. He agreed, and it was released … as a B side to a completely different song. The writing pair of Ray Evans and Jay Lovingston observed it was not receiving the airplay it deserved and Persistently went after the top 30 radio stations across the country as they were promoting the movie. It wasn’t even mentioned in the press information, but it won the Oscar for Best Song from the movie Captain Carey. We now observe this is the track put Nat on top of the vocal performers of the era…another B-side record that changed history…
So what was it that had held this effective, humble leader back? I started to check in with people who had been around much longer than I had, and they had some of the back story. It turns out that our CIO had been brought in by the Board to clean up/turnaround some of the mainframe systems that had gone poorly. This leader had an opportunity early on to demonstrate his abilities, which I finally sorted out, were not seen the way I observed them and that was hanging over his head many years later. I tried what I could to remedy that with all of the projects I gave him that he delivered flawlessly, but in this era in particular, it seemed that flashy out-did solid… which bothered me …. A lot.
I can do flashy, of course, but I also know the difference… I repainted what others saw as “meekness” into “solid” and decisions that were “tentative” into “extremely well thought through”, but, I believe it had to do a lot more with what he did on his own. I know I put him up for promotion at least twice, and I don’t remember exactly if he got it while I was there or after I left, but his Persistence eventually paid off and he made Director.
In my new career I am fortunate to work with many leaders like this – who need simply to figure out how to paint their value proposition… with brushes the organization understands. Who do you observe around you …that hasn’t quite achieved what they should have… and what can you do to help move them forward? “Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep, They just lie there….” It starts with observing what is rewarded, and the Persistence to consistently deliver AND describe what you are doing in that frame of reference. It is helping them to find their own wry smile, learn how to paint their own portrait, differently… “are you warm, are you real”… Mona Lisa.