Thursday, October 11, 2007

Harry, The Arrogant Bank Boss

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I promised I would share the story of what happened with the "bank boss" during the late eighties, early nineties. The story you're about to read was a time of tremendous adversity for me.

Every single person that appears on the stage of our lives has something to contribute, regardless of the outcome. They all take on the role of a teacher with a lesson plan or two.

David, the Bully, was one central character. If he hadnt approached me on the playground that day, I wouldnt have a unique story to share with my audiences. I would also not have known how much courage I really had to stand up for myself on that fateful day.

Harry is another such character. His name is fictitious to protect the innocent (or maybe not so innocent). Little did I know I was in for the ride of my life when I was transferred into his department.

It didn't take long to learn that this man had a reputation for publicly chewing out his subordinates over everything and anything that went wrong. Minor and major events were one and the same. Harry trusted no one and rarely promoted from within. His inner circle consisted of long-time cronies who were "yes-yes-yes-yes" people. Fear and intimidation often ruled the day -- no one challenged him.

Within a short period of time after my transfer, I faced each day with a sickly feeling in my stomach because I never knew what the day was going bring. Harry was like Jekyll and Hyde. One day he would be enraged and the next he'd do a complete turnabout, laughing, joking and having fun. We often knew first thing in the morning whether Harry would be in a bad mood. If he was, we joked amongst ourselves who would be the boss' "whipping boy"' that day. Yours truly certainly had his share of the whip.

At the time, Wall Street was undergoing massive restructuring due to the 1987 stock market crash where thousands were laid off. Job security was shaky at best. In fact, you were considered quite lucky if you had a job those days. This added uncertainty to an already pervasive work environment at the bank. Unfortunately, working for Harry only made things more a lot more challenging.

One day, I stumbled across Norman Vincent Peale's book, The Power of Positive Thinking. This gift of a book that seemed to come out of nowhere was exactly what I needed because one chapter, "New Thoughts Can Remake You" encouraged me to change my perception of the bank boss. In there was a powerful, yet simple idea:

To change your circumstances, first start thinking differently.

I took that sentence and ran with it as if my life depended on it. The moment I read it, I made a decision that I was going to change my attitude and perceive Harry in an entirely different light.

Every morning before going to work, I sat on my couch, closed my eyes and put the power of visualization to work for me. I imagined Harry as a frightened, insecure human being who might have ruled the office with an iron fist but was dramatically transformed into a loving, doting grandfather at home. In my mind's eye, he was seen romping around his backyard beaming and hugging his grandkids. I did this for months with dramatic results.

The reason I saw him in this way was because on the days when he was in a good mood, he would chatter incessantly about his grandchildren to everyone who would listen. As he was talking, his eyes -- often called the window to a person's soul -- gave us a rare glimpse beyond the Jekyll and Hyde facade. His million dollar smile literally knocked off your socks if you were fortunate to be nearby. It was an astonishing sight to behold.

Once this grandfatherly image took root in my subconscious, I couldn't help but transcend the illusion of power he had over me. It put a positive spin on my attitude toward him because I no longer perceived him as a tyrant.

Although he certainly wasn't aware I was doing this, he did notice a different, more positive energy about me. Naturally, this made him curious. He took more of an interest in my abilities rather than focusing on my disabilities. Eventually I was treated as an ally rather than as someone to keep at an arm's length, dramatically transforming the nature of our boss-employee relationship. No longer did I feel sick in the mornings - in fact, I actually looked forward to work!

Almost a year later, Harry did the unimaginable.

He pulled me into his office on the day of our performance reviews and gave me the shock of my life with an announcement that he was promoting me to a senior staff position! I almost fell off my chair. Within hours, the entire division heard about it. Everyone knew a miracle had happened. So did I.

A few months later, I received an opportunity to work for Merrill Lynch. It was as if the universe was telling me, "good job, you learned a powerful lesson and now it's time to move on."

Food for thought: Even people who pushed our buttons and make our lives more challenging are teachers put on our path to help us learn our lessons. They should be remembered too.

Profoundly deaf since birth, Stephen Hopson is a former award-winning stockbroker turned motivational speaker, author and pilot. He works with organizations that are ready to explore and overcome adversity because no one is immune from it - adversity does not discriminate. His professional speaking services, Obstacle Illusions, include fun and passionate presentations, especially the story of how his fifth grade teacher forever changed his young life with THAT'S RIGHT STEPHEN! You can view his website at Stephen also maintains a blog called "Adversity University" at