I’ve been working since I was 15 (I blame my Saturday job in Saxone Shoes, Falkirk for my lifelong shoe addiction), but my first professional job post University was with large Scottish law firm McGrigor Donald.
One of 13 trainee lawyers, I arrived in the Glasgow office one day in October 1995, suited and booted, convinced that I was a dead ringer for Ally McBeal (if you’re under 38, google her). I had a beautiful leather briefcase (thanks Mum), a stunning new work wardrobe (thanks Mum), and a nice new flat with a mortgage (thanks Mum and Dad).
More importantly, I had enthusiasm to burn.
The first day is a blur mainly consisting of new travel routes to get to work, maps, people, more people, being handed a dictaphone I had no idea how to use, luncheon vouchers (anyone remember those as a corporate perk?!) and falling in love at first sight with a trainee lawyer a year ahead of me.
But there are two people who stand out for me in that hazy, crazy day – Kirk and Melanie.
Melanie was a Senior Associate in the Commercial Property team. She was smart, sophisticated, knowledgeable, approachable, warm and with a gorgeous educated Glasgow accent – she had it all going for her, and it all together. Thinking back, she may have been my very first professional girl crush.
Then there was Kirk – the BOSS. A proud Ayrshire man (a coastal area south west of Glasgow), Head of the Commercial Property Department, he was tall, quietly spoken and carried an air of respect and authority. I was instantly both captivated and a little bit over-awed.
It was clear as I moved through the firm that Kirk was indeed very well respected. During my time there he went on to become a successful Managing Partner, Senior Partner and was integral in bringing about the merger of McGrigor Donald with international firm Pinsent Masons in 2012.
Even though I left the firm in 1999, and had only worked directly for Kirk for 6 months, he remembered me. He emailed me once a few years ago when he had seen my profile in a Scottish newspaper on Scots living in Australia to say he was happy to see me doing so well.
I was therefore shocked and upset to get an email from Melanie last week telling me she had been thinking about me because she had been to Kirk’s funeral a few days earlier, and had met many old faces from the time we had worked together.
Kirk was 62.
Hearing the news lead me to think back to those days – as young lawyers we were only 23 – full of vim and vigour, excited about our future, thinking we were both the best thing since sliced bread and equally (albeit quietly perhaps) having doubts that perhaps we weren’t quite as good as those around us.
And I thought of Kirk. About what made him stand out – as a leader, as a man, as a human being I had the privilege of knowing and working for, even for a very short time – to the point that I would shed a tear when I heard about his death.
- Generous – with his time and knowledge
- Approachable – you never felt he was “above” you
- Trustworthy – he followed through on what he said he would do
- Calm – although he was in senior positions and no doubt often under stress, I never heard him raise his voice
- Fair – he had high standards and expected your best work, but never set anyone up for failure
- Understanding – he didn’t judge, equally he was no push-over – he commanded respect and integrity from his staff
- Likeable – he was most certainly a man of the people, able to work and socialise in any environment
- Fun – Often the first (and sometimes one of the last) people at the bar buying drinks, Kirk understood the importance of downtime for his people, and actively encouraged it
Melanie estimated that over 700 people made it to Kirk’s funeral to let him know the impact he made on them – the difference he made in their lives. That’s the tip of the iceberg, because I know there will be hundreds, maybe thousands more who couldn’t be there that he also made an impact on.
As I build SmartWomen Connect, I’m thinking about these traits, and how I can embody more of them in the business, and my life. While each of us has a different leadership style, I believe it’s important to think about the impact we make on the people around us every day.
So today I urge you to take a step back. Put down the phone. Shut off the computer.
And take stock.
Think of the values, principles and traits you exhibit and live by, and whether they are helping you get the results you want – from yourself and your team.
Think of what you would like to see written about YOU, by someone you made an impact on – don’t wait till it’s too late. You’re in control. Be the leader you want to be now.
Thank you Kirk for being a boss who made a difference, showing the way for so many, and leaving a legacy that will live on forever.