The Long Game

Mon May 20 2024 - by Kirill Zubovsky

You will not always remember what people said, but you will never forget how they made you feel. This adage proved true for me, as I was sharing a story with a friend, I realized that I still recall a story from sixteen years ago where a business leader had a choice to play nice or to get what he needed, and he chose the latter. In my view, it was not the best option, and if you are a leader, I hope you will read this and consider changing your ways, aiming to create long lasting positive impact, instead of taking short term gains.

Once upon a time, I was an intern at a large company. We were not working on anything groundbreaking, but we reported directly to the CIO and had a substantial budget. It was as good a position as any within the organization. Being young, restless, and eager to work, I convinced my manager that automating a routine, time-consuming process was a great idea. Personally, I just did not want to do it manually, and automation made perfect sense.

It took a few weeks to persuade the higher-ups and a month to design, implement, test, and get all the necessary approvals. Eventually, the new process was adopted. I was delighted because instead of sitting at my desk, I could now spend more time playing foosball with friends, and the automation was saving the company at least a million dollars every year.

As my internship was drawing to a close, feeling satisfied with my contribution, I informed my team that I planned to use my accumulated vacation time to visit Palo Alto and learn more about startups. The team was likely thrilled (since I automated their jobs away, oops!), but the response from our Director was far from what I expected. He suggested that, given our recent product launch and his uncertainty about it running smoothly without me, I should stick around just in case something went wrong. Sensing that I was already halfway out the door, the Director pressed further, implying that if I ever wanted to work with anyone in his circles again, I should really reconsider my decision. I did not mind that he claimed the project as his idea and that my name never even came up with the CIO, but was it necessary to threaten an intern over a two-week vacation at the end of a year-long stint with no breaks?

Some might argue that he was pragmatic, knowing I might not be a great fit for the organization's pace, there was no point in worrying about my return after graduation. He had everything to lose if the project had a hiccup and nothing to gain if I went on vacation. Perhaps so, but in my view, this was such a short-sighted approach. Business and life is a long game. You may not get what you want immediately, but as long as you put in the effort and help others, it all compounds over time. Eventually, it all comes together.

Instead of resorting to bullying, which I never respond well to, the Director could have simply said "Thank you" and offered a way for me to continue to Palo Alto while keeping an eye on the project remotely. It would have cost him pennies, made me feel elated, and ensured the project continued uninterrupted. Instead, he chose violence.

There are some organizations where fear and control are the norm, but that is not a good fit for me, nor is it a way I would ever work with someone. Maybe you can scare some people some of the time, but if you want to go far, it helps to elevate people, make them feel wanted and appreciated.

I believe in creating environments where people feel valued and empowered. If you share these values, let us connect and build something great together. Let us choose the long game and make a positive impact that resonates for years to come.