Sometimes the greatest opportunity for transformation comes during our darkest moments. When circumstance tries to knock us down, victory always comes to those have the courage to keep getting up.
“We’re all self made. Only the successful among us will admit it.”
I vividly remember the phone call. Tiare was on loan from our Comcast Southwest team to be part of a major corporate project in Philadelphia. I had already backfilled her position as the number two in our human resources department with the expectation that she would be spending a year designing and deploying our new corporate HR on-line platform. Tonight, she was telling me that family priorities were bringing her home 10 months sooner than expected.
I’ve always been a family first guy, so I assured her without hesitation that she was doing the right thing. She wasn’t so confident. In the eyes of our divisional leadership, she was untested. The Philly gig would have given them an idea of her full capabilities. Now she was coming home with no job waiting for her. The worst possible sort of professional fear. One day you are a rising star. The next day you don’t know if you have a future.
I had only been in my role for a few months and was still learning my way around the culture of our high powered division leadership group. They were smart. They had a sixth sense for anticipating stormy weather and could quickly make spot-on judgements about who could cut it… and who couldn’t. They weren’t sure about Tiare.
But I was.
Our senior director of human resources was admitting to me that he was miscast. A trainer at heart, he was not enjoying many of the dimensions of his job. It was beginning to show in the department’s performance and morale. So I decided to take a chance on Tiare.
It wouldn’t be the only time I’d walk out on a limb at Comcast. But my gut was telling me that this was a diamond in the rough. Her work product had always been stellar. She had goals. She was a dedicated parent. And she wasn’t afraid to step outside of her comfort zone. She knew that this was where the growth and opportunity lay.
So I pitched my bosses on shifting our current HR guy to a training role and giving Tiare a shot at the top job. One of the things I loved about the division leadership was that they ultimately trusted the judgement of the people they hired, unless a pattern of behavior made them think otherwise. Get into the wrong lane at Comcast and you quickly head for the exit.
I was still new enough that they asked a lot of questions, but in the end, they let me make the move.
It was one of the smartest moves of my Comcast career. Tiare did exactly what I knew she could do. She pulled her team together, articulated a vision and pointed them in the right direction. She navigated the uncomfortable situation of supervising her former boss with magnanimity and class. She sought out a mentor at the division level to help her fill in the blanks of her HR knowledge until experience gave her the confidence to act reflexively. She attracted and retained some first class talent. Her one-on-one interactions with employees were laced with a firm empathy that showed concern for their situations, while protecting the company’s interest.
She also knew how to manage her boss. There’s a certain finesse in telling the guy you work for that he might be making a mistake. When Tiare would glide into my office and ask if she could shut the door, I knew that I was about to benefit from a world class coaching session. She brought that same vibe to our leadership team meetings, improving everyone else by modeling the behaviors she expected.
In time, Tiare came to be one of the most respected members of the Comcast HR team. She was a major factor in our high employee satisfaction scores and the high customer marks we received as a result. And while all of this was going on, she was an attentive mom to Derrick and Daniel and found time to chase her own happiness. She loved the outdoors. Many of her favorite moments came when she was enjoying the view from the top of a mountain after an arduous climb. At the very instant she reached the summit, she would be looking for the next mountain, imagining that trek and what she might see when she made it to the top. It became a metaphor for her life.
We ultimately attract that which we radiate so I was not surprised when she shyly told me one day that she thought she had found a new soul mate. As Colleen and I shared our date nights with Tiare and Isaac, we saw two terrific people who had that magic fit that is the basis for a great partnership.
There were challenges along the way. Leading a team is a precarious balancing act, juggling the needs of employees, customers and investors. Rarely are all three of these constituencies on the same page. Your success is determined by how well your results are perceived by these disparate groups. Past achievements quickly fade from memory and the focus becomes, “what can you do for me now?”
Then there is the continuing evolution of the business. Part of Tiare’s mission in helping design the new HR application was to achieve head count savings. And when it became clear that she was successfully working herself out of a job, she gave careful thought to where her happiness lay. She decided to associate her personal brand with a new organization. I was honored to provide a glowing, well deserved reference. Her new boss and I shared an entrepreneurial past and we both understood how critical it was for evolving organizations to have high performance people in the key roles. I knew Tiare would do well.
And she did. This week, she forwarded an email to me. At the top, she typed a smiley face. As I read further, I learned that this diamond in the rough had polished herself into a valuable gem, a seasoned executive who had just been selected to be the Chief Operating Officer at her company.
As I looked back over my six year collection of correspondence with this amazing young woman, hindsight quickly painted the picture of a winner. But that’s what hindsight does. Your good decisions seem obvious in the rear view mirror. I thought about the risk we both took that day she agreed to jump into the deepest water of her career and the hard work she put into creating her professional persona, defining happiness in her own terms and working at it until her dreams came true.
I thought about the things a few of the anonymous naysayers did to try to diminish her and torpedo her progress. When you take a chance on someone, somebody will eventually assume that there were ulterior motives involved. That comes with the territory. We’re all self made but only the successful among us are willing to admit it. Tiare rose above all off that, proving her cheerleaders right and proving the detractors dead wrong.
Looking at the picture of our extraordinary Comcast Southwest leadership team, I realize that Tiare’s story isn’t that unusual. At some point, someone believes in us enough to stretch us beyond the paradigms of who we think we can be. Those who have the courage to grab the brass ring don’t always find smooth sailing. But integrity, compassion, professionalism and tenacity are a powerful elixer. Mix that with worthy goals, whip up a thoughtful game plan, and growing from good to great is almost always assured.
This is Tiare’s story. But she would be the first to tell you that it could be yours, too.