A Helping Hand
We were at Bonnaroo last weekend. We enjoyed seeing The Avett Borthers and The National again, both favorites of ours. But watching The Lumineers struck a chord with me. Wesley Schultz, the lead singer, talked early in the set about how long he has been attending Bonnaroo, first as a fan and then as a band moving their way up through the stages to now, appearing on the main stage. Later in the set, he did something that got my attention. He invited singer and song writer Rayland Baxter up on stage to play with them and said ”because we want to help him.” That was incredibly powerful to me. They sang a Talking Heads song, “This Must Be The Place.” One song together, then Wesley left the stage and The Lumineers finished their set. By chance, we ran into Wesley later that night and commented to him how cool it was that The Lumineers had invited him on stage (the main stage with an audience of 50,000+ people) to perform with them. He responded that we should check out his music, he has three albums. Not quite the response we expected, but OK.
I later learned that Wesley had opened for The Lumineers on their 2016 tour. But I was still struck by the helpful and selfless gesture of The Lumineers to bring another musician on stage with them. It wasn’t just that they brought a musician up. We saw Brandi Carlyle join Hoiser on stage and later that day she joined John Prine. The next day when she was on the main stage performing, she invited Tanya Tucker on stage to perform with her. These were each impactful and a joy to experience. But The Lumineers experience had affected me. It felt like they were holding out a helpful hand.
During my career, I managed and coached many high performers. I worked with them on their development plans and we would discuss how they could best achieve their career ambitions. In many cases, this would involve finding them a senior mentor who would provide insights, guidance and advice. On more than one occasion, I had a very talented woman I was working with request that I help her secure a senior female mentor and I struggled. Sometimes it was a “no, I’m too busy” other times it was “no, it doesn’t seem like the right fit” and sometimes it was a “yes” but nothing meaningful came out of the mentor relationship. In each case, I found myself apologizing for the behavior of these senior leaders. In fairness, I had some of the same experiences finding senior male mentors for people I was managing or coaching. But the response of the female leaders always seemed like a bigger issue because they had each struggled to achieve their positions and I felt they should be more willing to offer a helping hand.
I don't want this to be a gender issue. For me, it has been about helping people who are following in my career path whether they are male or female. Over the years, I’ve had many conversations about this. There is a perception there is a “boys club”, that men are more willing to help other men. There is also a perception that women close the door behind them and are not as willing to help other women. I’m not sure that either of these are true. But I do believe we could each do more to help others on their career paths.
This could be as simple as taking a meeting with someone when they request it, even though you are busy. Or referring them to someone who might be able to help them, if not a fit for you. Ideally, it is being proactive in mentoring and supporting others as they are looking for guidance or support in their career. It is about being empathetic.
I reflect how often in my corporate career I refused a meeting request or perhaps even worse didn’t respond to it. Now, I take every meeting someone requests of me, whether I think I can help or not. I end most if not all email exchanges with the comment “please let me know if I can help you in any way.” It's a good practice.