The Shy Li’l Girl

There will be times in your career when, despite all conventional wisdom to the contrary, you’ll wanna do something that just “feels right”.

And, often, that’ll pertain to your people as well as other business decisions.

First off, people are pretty complicated creatures. “Complex” would be a major understatement.

What makes someone “successful”?

Is it a pinch of this & a dash of that? And what exactly is “success”?

In whose eyes?

There’s no book nor silly blog upon which you can depend to provide the answer. No set of prerequisites or standard eligibility criteria. No tried-and-true ancient recipe.

And while I previously wrote about the 3 most important body parts of a successful leader…your mind, your heart & your gut…I’m not sure that I mentioned in what order they’ll come into play.

Or to what degree for each one.

Or even, for a particular situation, if one of them pokes the other two in the eyes & takes sole control over your action.

Again, it’s that people thingie! The ultimate variable in life. (And I’m not even necessarily talkin’ about the, er, fickle nature of the fairer sex!)

*Mr. Zulu, set phasers to stun! And get those damned deflector shields in place!*


What’ll make you really happy? Hmmm…

If I gave a room of 100 people the opportunity to name 3 things, in priority order, I seriously doubt if I’ll get the same exact answer from any two people!

People are unique & that’s what makes leading people so difficult.

Yet so interesting.

And intriguing.

And while you MUST treat every person FAIRLY, that does NOT mean that you treat them all the same.

You’re not required to, nor should you.

Your top performers will often have vastly different needs than those people whose performance requires additional attention & significant improvement.

The most difficult part with leading more-tenured employees may be finding interesting ways to keep them engaged.



A totally-different story when dealing with those who just graduated from new hire training.

One size does not fit all.

Doesn’t necessarily work with employees nor with customers.

That’s why sometimes, your heart & your gut may tend to “overrule” your brain.

Here’s one such situation that I faced back in 1985…

I was the Operations Director for CitiPhone (Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island Region) back in NY.

And while we enjoyed pretty-low staff attrition, especially since call centers’ll normally average between 30% & 50% annually (and that’s on the conservative side, no less!), we were always experiencing significant volume increases as we assumed more & more responsibility for different functions (“Branch Service Station” for calls from branch employees…”harvesting” potential sales calls & working in conjunction with our Citi Telemarketing Unit…offloading different call types that previously were transferred to the branches for handling/fulfillment…installing Customer Assistance Phones on the branch floor to offload service demand…etc.).

In addition, we began expanding the menu of services we provided & often consciously “removed service calls” from the branches as best we could.

As such, we’d normally have a new hire training program a few times every year (though the class sizes were rather small, which helped immensely toward employing a much lower (better) student-to-trainer ratio & an enhanced instructional experience for all).

And I had a strict policy of trying to source as many “employee referrals” as possible!

(We asked our employees to refer their family & friends to us, on one condition…they hadda be at least as good, or better, than you!)

Worked outstandingly well!

I would always have my managers interview the candidates (after they passed an initial HR screening). After all, they all were exceptional service reps before they got promoted & knew every single aspect of the job.

This was my first “real” leadership position (other than running a small Special Projects team) so I had yet to take a very active role in interviewing & selecting staff myself.

Naturally, I maintained ultimate responsibility for the final decision & often times, would have an “informal” chat with each prospect.

There was this one, young “little girl”, in her beautiful white dress, who came to interview with us. (“Little girl” is NOT a demeaning term nor an insult! She just looked so angelic & everything.)

Her brother was dating one of our service reps at the time so that’s how she came to be referred to us.

She was nervous as hell, especially so when I sat down with her for a few minutes.

And she stuttered.

Quite noticeably.

She was interviewed by one of my managers as well as the departmental trainer.

Afterwards, I met with all the interviewers to discuss the different candidates.

When it came to this young girl (let’s call her “Nanette” for now, OK?), the manager who spoke with her, as well as the trainer, were against bringing her aboard.

They both cited Nanette’s stutter as the primary reason. They were perfectly fine with her, otherwise.

I used my executive privilege & overruled them.

“But, Mike, we’re running a call center here. These customers are gonna eat her up & spit her out!”

(Remember, ladies & gentlemen, this was New York. We serviced the customers & branches in Brooklyn, Staten Island & Long Island. You have seen “Saturday Night Fever”, right? The “Bronx Tale”?)

“While I do agree that her stutter is quite obvious, I gotta believe that’s she’s extremely nervous today. That’s certainly not helping!

“But I saw something in her eyes when I spoke with her. She REALLY wants this job badly.

“She’s the type that will give 120% effort & I bet she’ll try harder than any new hire we’ve brought on the past couple of years, with very few, if any, exceptions.

“She really impressed me!

“I’d really like for us to hire her!”

They agreed with me, albeit, somewhat reluctantly.

“And lemme tell you this…

“As time goes on & she becomes more comfortable with the demands of the job, her new surroundings, the other reps & finally, with you horrible monsters…*wink*…I’m sure she’ll settle down & her stutter will become much less noticeable.

“And, actually, I truly believe that our hard-core NY customers will feel empathetic toward her. They’ll treat her nicely & I bet they’ll soften their tone when speaking with her.

“I’m convinced this is going to work out great for all of us!”

Honestly, they still looked at me somewhat skeptically, but I knew they’d all go above & beyond to make sure she succeeded.

They did.

And she did.

You could see her getting more confident with each passing day.

And you could hear it, too!

Of course, there were times when she got a li’l stressed over a long, difficult call & her stutter became more pronounced, but, all in all, she progressed well.

Very, very well.

Became one of the better reps in an area filled with some incredible performers!

She was a dedicated, hard-working, concerned employee.

Whenever I held meetings with all the supervisors to review their people, I’d always ask, “So how’s my Nanette doing?”, even though I already knew the answer.

I left CitiPhone about 3 years later to accept the One Bank Practices Manager position (VP-level) in Brooklyn.

Not only was it a great opportunity for me to advance my career & greatly increase my working knowledge of the entire back-office operations world, I found myself unable & unwilling to work for my boss anymore.

But that’s another story for another time.

Nanette flourished as a service rep.

Several years later, as the various Citi marketplaces around the country (NY, Illinois, California, Florida, DC/Maryland, etc.) prepared to “move their back-office units, including CitiPhone, to the USCC in San Antonio”, Nanette applied for a transfer to another Citi business in NY.

She got accepted & eventually became a Vice President!!!

Years later, Citi sold off that business (I think it was foreign exchange- or Money Center-related), but Nanette stayed with that company.

Now that’s one great success story!!!

She remains one of my very close friends & I got to see her a few times after I relocated to Texas in 1993.

When the coast is clear 💉 💊 & I can return to NY…for a visit with my family, a postponed 50th class reunion with my elementary schoolmates & a few special gatherings with my buddies that I miss so much…you know I’ll try to gather “my people” together – – they’ll always be MY people – – for a nice get-together!


Thank you so much for listening!

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