I joined Hewlett-Packard in 1981. My second level sales manager was a character named Bob Sandefer. Bob had already been around HP for over 25 years and was a legend with our factories. Over the next five years, I would be part of Bob’s team, both as a sales rep and later as a first level sales manager. Over those years, I had plenty of disagreements with Bob on a variety of topics. He was tough as nails. As the years passed, and I got a little smarter, two things occurred to me. First, on virtually all of the areas where we had disagreed, he was right. Much more importantly I came to really appreciate how dedicated Bob was to “showing up” for his people.
On anything to do with the business, Bob had very strong ideas on how to take care of customers and through doing so, to grow the business. He would be in your face in a heartbeat if he sensed anything less than total dedication to HP or the customer. He had high expectations, and enforced them to the last inch. On the personal side (after five, mind you), he showed a really remarkable ability to get to know everyone on his team (about fifty people), their personal strengths and shortcomings, but also their spouse, kids, and how big the new house had to be… At 5:01, he would hold court, and the office was usually full until after 7, with one person or another going in for coaching. We didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was. It often involved a minute or two of those intense “feedback moments” but that didn’t seem to matter. He was like a candle to a moth. The interaction didn’t just happen in the office. If there was a wedding, a funeral, or any other kind of significant life event, he was there. Period. It didn’t matter where you were on the list of fifty. You were one of his people.
As a perspective on coaching, Bob’s strength in building productive coaching relationships was his ability to show up on a variety of levels. No one could touch his knowledge of our business. Beyond the business, he put in the time to connect with everyone on a deeply personal level. He expected you to have a plan and he had the audacity to remember it and ask you how it was going the next time he saw you. If you fell short of your plan or his expectations for you, you learned accountability in a hurry. After some of his accountability sessions, you might feel like you had been kicked around the block, but you knew that he knew you and loved you with every kick. It wasn’t just kicking. He celebrated with us, cried with us, and was very predictably there for us, 24-7.
A lot of coaching was delivered on that very firm foundation.