We wrote this letter today to our employee-partners with each of you in mind. As you strive to build your respective organizations, perhaps some of what we say may resonate with you and your own employee-partners.
Please “Disrespect” Your Senior Management Team!
“I didn’t want to trouble you, as I didn’t think you could help, but it looks like I might have been wrong.”
“I assume you are very busy and I didn’t want to elevate this problem to you because it is complicated and a big distraction, and now it is worse.”
“This didn’t seem important enough to involve you at such an early stage, and now it’s too late.”
“It’s my job to handle this and I thought I was doing a good enough job on my own, but I guess I wasn’t.”
“It would have been a pain in the neck to get to this client meeting and I didn’t want to impose on you, and now I wish I did.”
“We screwed this up and I just wanted to fix it myself, and now it’s unfixable.”
“I was sure I could recruit this star on my own because I have a great relationship, but it obviously wasn’t enough and I wish I knew that you knew her too—that may have been the difference maker.”
“I had never been in this situation before and I assumed nobody else had either—I wish I asked.”
“It was a long shot and I didn’t want to look foolish in front of you, but in hindsight you probably could have been the difference maker.”
“I wanted to prove I could do it all myself, and I guess I couldn’t.”
Dear Jefferies Employee-Partners,
We all live in a demanding world with constant pressures, cross currents, challenges and opportunities pulling us in often conflicting directions. For many of us, our job description is not as clear or straightforward as it once was. Juniors find it increasingly difficult to get attention and help from the more senior folks, who in turn feel constant pressure to produce against greater challenges. Often as one navigates the path to
become more senior, it is all too easy to fall into the trap that asking for help is a sign of weakness. We would like to share with you in this letter one principle that we believe can help everyone at Jefferies deal with this reality: Our entire firm would be better if we collectively purged ourselves of the concept of undue and excessive respect for seniority.
To be specific, we are suggesting you should start disrespecting the CEO, then direct your energy towards the President, and then focus on the entire leadership team of our firm. You should then go to every single other person at Jefferies who manages, oversees, or is otherwise responsible for anyone beyond themselves. The premise is very simple. We believe the job of every leader at Jefferies is to constantly push responsibility down and empower every single person that works for us to allow them to best accomplish their specific jobs. This means our leaders must ensure that all of their direct reports have all the information, support, knowledge, perspective, experience, skills and latitude to do their job well. This is the only way we know to attract and keep the best people in our industry. Winners want to be empowered to accomplish objectives that are truly important and valuable. It only seems natural that if we are going to constantly push out all these responsibilities across our firm to empower every one of our people, sometimes (maybe often) our people will need help. The point we are raising in this note is that we need every single person at Jefferies to accept and embrace the reality that it is a sign of smarts, savvy and commitment to enlist every senior person necessary for help whenever needed. We must stomp out the misperception that any of our senior folks are “too busy,” “too important” or “too anything” to help our people accomplish what needs to get done.
Clearly, we are not saying that all of our people should be delegating their responsibilities upward while they coast through their day. We have way too much respect for our team and know there is zero chance of that ever happening. What we are saying is that there will often be times that sharing one’s problems or issues, soliciting feedback on strategies or leveraging experience or relationships of someone more senior, will be the deciding factor between success and failure. We believe that to achieve this comfort level of having our more junior people embrace the idea of proudly and confidently asking for help when needed, our senior people need to live by three simple rules:
1. You have to eliminate all artificial barriers that can be used to insulate yourself from the real world. You need to remember you were junior once, and perhaps not that long ago. You need to respond to emails and calls in real-time and be blind to the seniority or title of the person reaching out. You need to maintain a body language that never says, “I’m too busy and important, what do you want?” Approachability is as important as competence. Ego is the enemy, pride in title hierarchy is pathetic and taking satisfaction in mentoring the next generation of good leaders is the most worthy of objectives.
2. You need to stay engaged in the trenches regardless of your length of service, history of success or job title. You can’t be of help to anyone in the firm if your skills are not current, your relationships are not maintained and expanded, and you are not learning and growing outside of your historical comfort zone daily. These may be the last things someone who has been very successful wants to hear, especially later in one’s career, but there is truly the finest of lines between being super senior and no longer relevant. Never forget this.
3. You need to have the best interests of the entire firm in mind, and not just prioritize your own career. It may appear contrary to common sense or sound too folksy or idealistic to be true, but in our careers we have witnessed the incontrovertible truth that if you act in the long-term interest of your business, you will undoubtedly get more responsibility, more cumulative compensation, more promotions and, most importantly, more satisfaction. Yes there may be short periods of time when more selfish behavior will appear the faster path to some success, but it is illusory and temporary. It is also very lonely.
On the other side of the equation, the more junior people who may be looking for help from those more senior should strive to live by the following objectives:
1. Do everything in your power to never waste people’s time. You need to know when it is appropriate to reach out for help and when it is not. You need to fully understand what you are asking for, who the most appropriate person is to approach and when is the right time to reach out. You must learn from every experience and learn from the assistance you received, so perhaps next time it is unnecessary. Cogent, succinct, and smart requests are appreciated. Rambling musings without the relevant facts laid out will drive people nuts.
2. Follow the advice you receive or, if something new is learned that may change things, go back to the senior person before improvising. There are few things more frustrating than helping or spelling out a strategy, and then finding out that it was not implemented properly. Leaders who spend the time to help you, want to see you achieve our objectives. Follow their advice. Also, it is always appreciated if you share the feedback of what happened and the current status of the situation.
3. Start doing the exact same to people who are more junior than you. Nothing makes someone want to help you more than when they see you exhibiting the same behavior with people who look up to or need you. It becomes a wonderful cycle of operating leverage, connectivity, information sharing and productivity. If you don’t exhibit positive leadership behaviors to the people junior to you, why should anyone waste time advising you, introducing you or going to meetings with you?
It really is this straightforward. If you are relatively new in your career or even in the middle and find yourself with a challenge or opportunity that can be helped by enlisting someone with more experience, please:
1. Pick up the phone early
2. Send a succinct email for advice, history or perspective
3. Ask for help if someone knows the client well
4. Seek additional help in recruiting the people we need
5. Ask the right person to accompany you to the client meeting
None of us are too busy. None of us are too important. We all “have the time.” All of us will benefit if together we live by these very simple rules. Just in case there is ever any doubt, all 3,438 of you should feel free to reach out to either of the two of us whenever it is important, timely, and we can be of assistance. We believe the greatest form of respect you can show us is by disrespecting the thought that we may be too busy or too important to help you get the job done for our clients.
Rich and Brian
P.S. One more thought on disrespecting senior management that is worthy of its own separate letter: If you have a strong conviction that senior management is missing some of the facts, are off base on assumptions, don’t know the individuals involved as well as you do, or you just believe what we are saying or doing is simply wrong---PLEASE TELL US! Nobody is infallible, none of us have all the facts, and every one of us can use help. We welcome healthy debate and only want to find the right decisions/conclusions for all.