At 23 years old, I got my first job leading and managing people. I'd been at the company as a sales rep for almost three years, and (as I'd seen it) earned the right to be in responsible for the entire sales team.
I was too naive to be scared. Just arrogant.
The night before I started work, I got a note from the company's CEO:
It struck me for the first time that this was about more than my own professional advancement. I was about to inherit a disproportionate level of influence over the lives of the people that worked for me. I was also about to be responsible for delivering value to our investors, and keeping everyone else in the company on payroll. Shit.
No surprise: I was exactly as terrible a manager you'd expect for a 23 year old salesman. We turned over 31 people in my first two years on the job. 31! In a department of 10!
I let more than my team down. Thanks in part to a bunch of bankers in New York and a small financial crisis, we stalled in 2008 and 2009. The company barely stayed open. We laid people off. I had my car repossessed and defaulted on all my credit cards. That same CEO who wrote me this e-mail would clean out his change tray so we could share Dollar Menu lunches at McDonald's.
It was miserable.
But every day, I was learning. I got a little better at recruiting and training. I got a lot better at managing people and making them feel valued. I became a little less arrogant and slightly more tolerable. And it finally paid off.
Once a week or so, I read the note I got before my first day. And even now, when I'm embarking on a new business adventure, I read it over. It reminds me how foolish I was, and how much I've learned. It admonishes me that I still have so much more to learn, too.
And it reminds me of the most important lesson you can learn as a manager: when you find someone you truly believe in, invest the resources you need to so they might develop. Good people take patience and time to grow, but they are more rewarding personally and financially than any other aspect of the business.