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I wrote a users’ guide to myself, and you should, too

“I made it clear how I like to work and how I like to work with others. Every expectation I have of my team was laid bare. Like the fact that I never yell, ever. And that speaking truth to power wins you points every time.”

I wrote a users’ guide to myself, and you should, too
[Photo: NeONBRAND/Unsplash]

So you’re getting a new boss. For most of us (except the unusually self-assured), the feelings that follow are probably some combination of uncertainty, angst, insecurity, and a boatload of curiosity. Altogether rational thoughts, given the circumstances, but nonetheless uncomfortable.

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Back in the late ’90s, I was invited to meet a new boss for the first time. His name was Fred, and he’d asked me to meet him for a casual breakfast on a Sunday morning. Except there wasn’t anything casual about my preparation. You’d think I was preparing to testify at my own trial. I was that intent to impress. I put serious thought into what to wear, including a particularly striking shirt. To this day, he busts my chops because of how serious I was and particularly my choice of shirt.

When you become a CEO, the reality is that you’re everyone’s boss. So when I took the job at TD Ameritrade, it wasn’t lost on me that the anxiousness I’ve experienced with new bosses was about to be felt by about 7,000 people who didn’t know me. Not only was I brand new, I was a Canadian moving south to lead an American company. Outside of LinkedIn and a reasonably active social media profile, I was a closed book to most of the people I was about to lead.

So I decided to write one. Not so much a book, but a kind of users’ manual. About me.

I tried to imagine everything I ever wanted to know—both the personal and the professional—about the bosses I’ve had in my career and articulate those things about myself. It took an entire weekend fueled by lots of caffeine. By Sunday, I had 4,702 words that I hoped would remove any mystery from me.

I talked about the basics: my family, education, first job, daily routine, my politics, even my genealogy. I also talked about the losses that I’ve had in my life that helped shape the kind of person I am today.

I shared the results of my Myers Briggs personality assessment, both what I used to be (INTJ) and what I am today (ENTJ), and why I think that changed over time.

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I made it clear how I like to work and how I like to work with others. Every expectation I have of my team was laid bare. Like the fact that I never yell, ever. And that speaking truth to power wins you points every time.

Then came the “quick hit” bullets—about 34 of them—including big stuff like leadership principles, my approach to strategy, and the power of a healthy culture, to some of my most common gripes (see: monster PowerPoint presentations and showing up for a meeting late). It was here where I was sure to mention why I’m the kind of person who’s always reachable, not because it’s an expectation I have for everyone (far from it) but because I love what I do, and it works for me. Removing that vacuum of ambiguity hopefully led to a little less stress. I may be “on” 24/7, but that doesn’t mean I’m working 24/7.

By the end, I was struck by the realization that the exercise was just as valuable for me as what I hoped it would be for the people working for me. It was cathartic. Thirty years of experiences, accomplishments, lessons learned, and the ups and downs of an entire career now existed on paper. In a way, those words serve to keep me honest today.

I sent it to my leadership team, with instructions to read it, ask any clarifying questions, and refrain from seeing it as some sort of mandate. It was an experiment to be sure, met with some surprise as you might expect, followed by gratitude. It’s since been shared more broadly in many ways throughout the company. If there’s one upshot, it’s been that meetings are better and not just the ones that I’m a part of.

If in some small way I eased just some of the apprehension about the new guy, it was more than worth it. Whatever kind of boss you are or you’re about to become, to however many people, a guide to you might be worth it.

One piece of advice: Before you share it with people you’ve never met, share it first with the people who know you best. I did, with my wife and two boys. My own truth paired with their perspective of me made the final product that much more authentic—and proves once again that we’ve all got blind spots about ourselves that our best mirrors can help point out.

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Tim Hockey is the president and CEO of TD Ameritrade, the original fintech company that provides investing services and education to more than 11 million client accounts totaling more than $1.3 trillion in assets, and custodial services to more than 6,000 registered investment advisors. A financial services veteran, he has more than 35 years of experience in retail banking and wealth management, and a passion for leveraging technology to enhance the client experience. 

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