One of the common traits we see from people of all walks of life, career paths, and ages is that at a certain level of experience you're able to look back and see one or two defining moments and people who had an outsized influence on your path. These moments need not to have been monumental in nature, and the people who affected your course in life are likely unaware of the extent of their influence.
The year that I spent on the trading floors of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange were a crucible that formed and transformed who I am as a person. The moment I first set foot onto the trading floor began my baptism by fire.
Less than 6 hours into the job I witnessed the CEO of my new employer grab another clerk by the lapels of his lowly gold colored jacket, rip open his button down shirt and stuff a crumpled up trading report inside, drag him over to the window of our 17th floor office, and threaten to "throw his weak ass through the window if (he) ever fucked this up again."
That was the first day of what was hands down the single greatest educational year of my life.
Getting Called Up To The Majors
My time on the trading floor ended with the opportunity to sit "upstairs" on a newly formed trading desk of a major investment bank. Wisely, this desk was structured as to pair junior traders and senior traders together. The senior traders were ultimately responsible for the gains and losses of their underlings.
Through a convoluted and rather uninteresting turn of events, I was assigned to Raoul, the Biggest Swinging Dick on the desk.
Raoul helped the US Rowing Team claim a silver medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics, and his former teammates loved to tell stories about him both starting and ending fights in his formative years. His wife would later tell me that when they met at a team party in Philadelphia, Raoul was wearing cowboy boots, jeans, and a cowboy hat while tending to a pig smoker on a hot summer day. His wife made a comment about pig roasts being barbaric, and Raoul simply responded by aiming a torpedo of dip spit in front of her feet and telling her, "you should have heard it squeal when we slit it's throat."
Raoul was respected by his colleagues and feared by brokers and support staff. He had an undeserved reputation for having a constant, unreasonably short temper. The reality was that he had an intolerance for stupidity and selfish behavior. He is one of the most generous, selfless leaders I have known. Outside of my father, he was the most influential teacher in my life.
On our first day together, Raoul told me what I now tell every new employee we hire at SOFLETE: "I'm very good at taking bad news, but it's imperative that I know it right away. If you find yourself in trouble, tell me and we will work together to fix it."
We sat less than four feet apart from each other, and most conversations we would have in the future would occur while we both looked straight ahead at the wall of monitors at our desks. Yet for this conversation, Raoul turned his chair towards me, as he laid out the ground rules and his expectations. It was impossible not to understand how serious Raoul was in this decree, but what I didn't have at the time was an appreciation for the gravity and importance of his #1 rule - both on the trading desk and in life in general.
It wasn’t long before my novice inexperience led me into a corner that I couldn’t find my way out of. With the experience of having navigated tricky and uncommon situations, Raoul would take the reins and help get things unstuck. When his superiors would question my decision making, he took the heat, and yet he often gave me complete credit for wins that were not solely due to my efforts.
This was my first experience witnessing selfless leadership at it’s finest.
Make Mistakes. Learn From Them. Move On.
Humans are fallible. This is undeniable and unavoidable. We've written extensively about the importance and teachings of failure right here in this very blog. As leaders, we know that expecting no one to fail is setting them up for that very thing. At SOFLETE, no one is beyond reproach and no one is beyond making mistakes. First mistakes are never cause for reprimand. The only action that is inexcusable is the failure to alert the team of bad news right away; the denial of reality at the potential expense of yourself and your team.
Bad news rarely gets better with time. And if it does, it's just luck, but a shitty kind of luck. Bad news that gets better by chance is only a false signal that will help get you in deeper the next time. It's a sucker's play.
Denying reality doesn't have to be an active participation sport. All it takes is to sit there and do nothing. Inaction might be driven by fear, confusion, or a myriad of other reasons, but at the end of the day it manifests itself as denial: refusing to acknowledge and deal with a difficult situation. If you're part of team, denial might just pull down the entire crew before they see what is happening.
There's ever only one way out of a bad situation, and that's to acknowledge, assess, and act. Use whatever acronym or process you want - OODA, DADA, or something else entirely. The end result is the same.
Raoul taught me the first of many valuable lessons that I've used with every group, every team, and every business I've been a part of, including SOFLETE. It's my number one rule, it's our number one rule, and it should be yours:
Do not deny the reality of your situation. Take action and never hesitate to ask your team for help.