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Herr Schnerr – It’s All Coming Back Now

Executive leaderI give a presentation to University Students in which I do a “career walk” , connecting the dots of the major decisions and pivotal moments in my career and the lessons that I learned from them. I begin the presentation with guidance my father gave me as I left college. One of the students in the class asked me, “Is there anything else prior to your first job where you could connect the dots?”

One college experience came to mind. I was a Comparative Literature Major and I took a class about the culture of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was taught by the nicest, elderly professor, Herr Schnerr. He had a true passion for the topic and loved his students. Loved teaching this course about the music, literature, arts of that time.

I won’t lie. It was considered an easy course and I needed one; but I loved the topic and I loved Herr Schnerr’s enthusiasm and love for teaching it. I was nailing the course. While the course was in English, I submitted all my papers in German and Herr Schnerr appreciated how seriously I took the course. But halfway through I started to coast and my work was no longer as good as it should have been. I coasted on the final, knowing I had the course nailed. Herr Schnerr failed me.(or gave me a C, I can’t remember. At the time it meant the same to me)

I was furious. I told him my work was clearly better than the rest of the class, and I was doing the course in German for God’s sake!

Herr Schnerr told me. “I don’t grade on a curve. And much of my decision was subjective. I don’t have to be objective. I felt, I observed, that you didn’t try, that you could have done much better, gotten more out of the class.”

And he was right.

Executive leader

Many years later, as CEO, when I established the annual goals and targets for my senior leadership team that would determine their bonuses, I included one that read something like this:

“Participates as a responsible productive member of the senior leadership team, as evaluated by me”(usually 20% of bonus)

I got pushback. That is not an objective target. What if I am doing a lot of work and you don’t see it? My reply was simple.

“I know it is subjective. I am looking for behavior. And if I don’t see it, if I don’t see the impact of it, then it doesn’t exist. Make sure I see that you are vested in the high performance of this team. Leadership is about behavior to drive results. Not everything is objective.”

So that’s where that came from…

Still connecting the dots…

Ellipsis AdvisorHerr Schnerr – It’s All Coming Back Now