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Red Pens, Invisible Budgets and Knowing Who You Want to Become October 17, 2011

Posted by christinapappas in Marketing, Strategy.

While I was growing up I often said to myself or anyone else listening ‘I am going to be the coolest mom ever and let me kids do and say whatever they want’. This usually came after I was either a) grounded, b) not allowed to do something or go somewhere or c) totally mortified by something my parents did, said, wore or drove. Every felt like that as a kid? So why am I telling you this? Well, I started thinking lately about the types of people I have worked for and the types of companies I have worked in and found myself thinking ‘I am going to be the coolest boss at the coolest company ever’ and couldn’t help but recall my childhood fantasies of being a ‘cool mom.’

I’ve had tons of bosses (perhaps in another post Ill delight you with all the various jobs I have held in my lifetime) but there are a couple that really stuck out as the ones that I will ultimately learn from in the way that I ‘don’t want to try that with my team’.


This looks great except for this, this, and this, o and this too. You know what? I can just write it.

The first boss I had out of college was really nice. He genuinely wanted to see me succeed – up until the point I did turn in my resignation letter anyways. But he had this big, giant red pen and used it often. Most often on anything and everything I had written or created. I was crushed daily wondering if I would ever be a good marketer. I read so many books, logged in tons of hours in online marketing forums (HT MarketingProfs!) and asked for advice from the best marketer I knew – my Dad. But nothing stopped that red pen – for TWO YEARS!

The red pen wasn’t the problem. Marking up my projects wasn’t a problem either. The problem was that I wasn’t learning from my mistakes. I wasn’t even being told I was making ‘honest mistakes any junior marketer would make’. I was just edited and sent back to my desk to accept those edits into the content and complete the project. I left the company not knowing much except that I didn’t want to work for a manager like that ever again.

If we were to ever spend any money – which we won’t – how should we spend it?

Another boss was labeled as ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ by the team. I didn’t know who I was going to get on what day and it was extremely stressful. But I was given a lot of freedom in which I learned a lot. My boss was a great mentor but not a great teacher. Fortunately, I had been a self-taught marketer carried over from my previous job so I took initiative and started learning about email marketing, html and website development. I spent tons of time in social media and developed a knack for it. I got leads from LinkedIn groups and started thinking about blogging and content marketing. I was constantly asked to research, develop and present a marketing budget. I gained experience in building spreadsheets and presenting to senior executives.

The problem wasn’t my crazy boss (we get them sometimes J ), and the problem wasn’t the fact that I had to really be creative in my approach to ‘free’ marketing. The problem was that I was hired to do a job that I wasn’t allowed to do. The company was constantly showing every attempt to spend money but never actually pulled the trigger on anything. It was SO frustrating! I was constantly screaming in my head ‘why did you hire me if you don’t trust me?’ One thing that irks me deep down inside to this day is that I will never know if my ideas would’ve worked.

So what am I going to be when I sit in the big girl’s chair one day?

I want to be a mentor. I want to give people a chance (because you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job…). I want to hear people’s opinions and let them takes risks. I want to encourage them to fall on their faces and blow their budget. Exceed their goals by 1,000,000% and then not even come close the next quarter.

Come up with something new. Do something new. Create something. Learn something. Teach me something.

I want to set real expectations. When I hire someone to do a job, I expect them to do it and do the job in the way I described it to them at our first meeting. I want complete transparency between me and my team when it comes to the workplace (and they can come to me for other stuff too of course if need be). I want them to succeed, to want to succeed. And I want them to be better than me.



1. marashorr - October 17, 2011

Love this post for so many reasons! I was just talking about this very same topic while watching football with friends yesterday. (Yes, this is what we talk about; don’t judge me.) I think someone who is truly looking to grow is lucky to have both wonderful and less-than-wonderful bosses; this way you know what you want to be… and what you don’t.

Question: do you think it’s better to start out with a fabulous boss or an awful boss? Does it help you get tough first and THEN appreciate the good, or does the good make the awful that much tougher?

christinapappas - October 18, 2011

That’s a tough question! I don’t really know what a ‘fabulous’ boss is because I think they are all (or in my experience) tough in one regard or another. The ones that are too ‘easy’ are tough because they are easy and sometimes you dont get the full learning experience.

But, at a former company, I worked with someone fresh out of college and he was constantly asking me ‘is this really how companies are?’ to which I responded ‘no, but this is a great learning experience for you – trust me.’ So, if you can handle it and you have support like other team members to turn to that are also ‘dealing’ with the boss, then I say toughen that skin as early as you can but be careful not to let it beat you down.

2. Mack Collier - October 18, 2011

Hey Christina! I think we respond so much better to bosses that see our potential and push us to reach it. This is a bit of an off-the-wall example, but…..when I was 10, I played football one fall. The teams were broken up into three classifications based on age. If I remember correctly, 7 and 8 year olds were on the Mini-Midget team, 9 and 10 year olds were the Midgets team, and 11 and 12 year olds were on the Pee Wee team. I was on the Midgets team 😉

Anyway, myself and a couple of friends decided to play for the team one fall, and it was about 20 miles away from where we lived, so we didn’t know any of the coaches or players, and they didn’t know us. When we started practicing, our Midget team didn’t have a coach, so the Pee-Wee coach pulled double-duty and coached my Midget team as well till we could find our own coach. On the first day, we were doing receiving drills, which was basically a quick and dirty way for the coach to decide which players could be receivers, based on whether or not they could catch the ball 🙂 They lined us all up, and one by one the coach would throw us a pass and we’d see if we could catch it. I was scared to death, cause I knew I would drop it and make a fool out of myself.

But when it got to be my turn, the coach did something I’ll never forget: He looked at me and smiled and said ‘Ok Mack, go get it!’ And then he winked at me. That wink was his way of telling me ‘I know you are going to catch this pass!’. And I did. He could have thrown that ball 10 feet over my head, and I would have caught it because of that wink. That coach worked with us for about a week, and I did very well, and was probably going to be a receiver for the team.

And then, our team got a new coach. The Pee-Wee coach we’d had had to go back to coaching the Pee-Wee team, so the father of one of the players on our Midget team agreed to coach the team. This guy wanted to have the team be built around…..wait for it….his son. So his son was the entire focus of the team, and he didn’t really care what the other sons could do. I was tall and big for my age, so he made me a lineman. It didn’t matter that I had done well as a receiver for the other coach, he just looked at me and saw that I was bigger than most of the kids my age, so I became a lineman.

Needless to say, I wasn’t as inspired to play for this coach as I was the Pee-Wee coach 😉 Sorry for the long-winded comment, but I think when it comes to leadership, we are inspired to follow people that can see our truest potential, and that make an effort to find it.

christinapappas - October 18, 2011

I love that story! Thanks so much for sharing it here! It’s very true. The leaders whom I have admired the most were the ones that saw my true potential and did everything they could to nurture it. They pointed out my flaws and helped me fix them (if I wanted) and they allowed me to focus on what I was passionate about. One boss even let me define my job and hired someone else to do the rest. These are the real leaders.

3. Jay - October 29, 2011

I really like this post. It never occurred to me the impact my leaders had on me up till a year and a half ago. The past 3 jobs I’ve had have all impacted me in different ways and it was the people that lead each team that made the team what it was.

Compare working more hours with no overtime allowance to a company which lets you claim overtime allowance based on the extra hours you chose to put in. The latter unfortunately did not work for many of us as this company’s appointed Team Lead had a poor way of approaching his employees. People need to understand money isn’t everything to everyone and it isn’t going to put you in control and sure as hell gain you respect points.

This Leader, did get the team to eventually meet the company’s Service Level Agreement (SLA), however when asked which leader inspired you or helped you grow the most during my and many other employees exit interview, his name not once came up.

I think you will make out to be an amazing mentor Christina! You’ve already got the right attitude for it!

christinapappas - October 30, 2011

Thanks for sharing your experience! Money has never been a motivator to me personally (although money is nice – right 🙂 ), but a great leader can be an extreme motivator.

The thing with leader is they tend to also have the role of mentor which is not one to be taken lightly. Some leaders are leaders simply because they have to be in order to be in a senior position at a company. We are not all made to manage people but some do because that is their job. And that’s when you will find the ones that motivate with tangible goods like bonuses or tickets to something or a day off (all good things we all want but not a sustainable business plan for the long run).

I hope the leaders you had in those roles all left a lasting impression on you and helped you think about who you do and don’t want to be.

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