By Michele Porterfield
She asked to meet with me for just a few minutes right then and there. While my day was already packed and I did not know her particularly well, I knew enough at 25 to make myself available to a Senior Partner with the firm. She proceeded to tell me that a colleague who started at the firm the very same day I did would be getting promoted and that such a promotion would not be coming my way. It would be announced the next day and she said she felt like I needed to know in advance.
I can remember the day like it was yesterday. I remember exactly what I was wearing, including the navy double breasted suit and the matching navy chiffon bow that held my low ponytail into what I thought was the perfect professional look. Gotta love the early nineties, right? I do not remember much else that she said because I was too busy fighting back the tears I did not want to show.
There was one sentence though that I remember vividly and will never ever forget. “Stick with what you know is right, and it will always work out in the end.” I didn’t fully understand what she meant at the time, but I trusted her advice and figured its full meaning would reveal itself eventually.
When I left her office, I decided the only place to go was outside to get some fresh air. I wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood trying to make sense of it all. Besides being devastated I simply could not reconcile how someone who I knew to be smart but with a reputation for cutting corners, backstabbing, and being untrustworthy altogether was being rewarded with a big promotion. That just did not make any sense in my world. While I loved my work and the firm itself, I began to question if it was my kind of place. I managed to pull myself together and show back up to work the next day and for the next few years actually, figuring that someday I would make sense of it all. I carried on like a champ and continued to learn many more lessons from that particular Partner and others I encountered along the way. At some point I got gutsy enough to seek out a new role that I thought was a better fit, and I took my own path to success.
While I did not view that Partner as a mentor in that moment, I somehow knew her advice was solid and she cared about me enough to tell me the real deal, even though she did not have to do so. She provided an essential, foundational message that transcended the specific situation and became a core principle for me in my professional life. She drew on her own life experiences to help me see things I could not see at the time. She did not tell me what to do, but instead gave me a way to think about what was happening and how to not let it interfere with my plans.
About ten years later I heard that my old colleague who had gotten that early promotion was fired from the firm for cause. The details of the circumstances were irrelevant, but I understood in that very moment what the advice I got so long ago truly meant. “Stick with what you know is right and in the end it will all work out.” I have drawn on this advice many, many times over the past 25 years, and it never disappoints. She helped me understand how all it takes to navigate challenging circumstances is to remain true to a set of core philosophies that serve as personal guideposts. Over the years I have developed my own set of tenets based on my personal experiences and values, and I aim to pass them along to others who are trying to navigate their own careers.
So…what core philosophies guide you as a leader and how can you share them with others you have the chance to impact?