Brian Rouff | Crain's Las Vegas

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Brian Rouff

Background:  

Brian Rouff is a partner in Imagine Communications, a full-service marketing and communications firm headquartered in Las Vegas with offices in Detroit and Orlando. When not managing the firm, Rouff is also an author, with a brand-new book out called "The House Always Wins."

The Mistake:

I thought management was micromanaging.

When I got out of school [in 1977] with my freshly minted communications degree, the job that I got was just barely in that field. I was working for a cable TV company selling subscriptions to the only two movie channels that existed at that time, HBO and Showtime. So that was my communications job after putting in my college time.

But I turned out to be a good salesperson. So after about two years of that, my company did what many companies back then would do – to their detriment and mine. They promoted me to a managerial position in a different system.

I'm 24 years old. They gave me zero training, and they just took their top sales guy and turned him into a manager. I'm managing people who are five, six, 10 years older than I am. I don't know what the heck I'm doing, and many of these guys at that time were Vietnam vets, so they had a lot of life experience. The system itself was in total disrepair and there were always technical issues with it, and again I'm in no way equipped to deal with any of this.

I thought management was micromanaging. I thought it was telling people what to do and getting involved in every aspect of the business even though the people that were there already knew what they were doing.

I didn’t know anything from a technical aspect. I really didn't know the system itself. I didn’t know the people, and I just jumped right in and said, "Okay, I'm going to run this thing because that's what managers do." And it was terrible. They didn't respect me. Why would they? I'm this 24-year-old punk. I don't know what I'm doing. It was really brutal. I ended up staying about a year and a half there. I wised up a little bit and left to get into the radio business so I could take a shot at what I thought I wanted to do.

That was the thinking of the day – just throw people into the deep end of the pool and let them sink or swim.

The Lesson:

Only later did I learn the essentials of management. I took college night courses. I took Dale Carnegie training. I read a ton of books. I also got some life experience under my belt, and so I learned that what I thought was management had nothing to do with management.

The big lesson that I learned from that experience is that you really need to discover who your people are. You learn their strengths. You plug them into positions where they can best utilize their strengths, and give them a chance to succeed without getting in their way.

You want to be a resource and somebody who is a problem solver, but if you've got good people, you let them do what they do. And then meet with them once a week or something just to find out what they're up to and see if there's anything you can help with, but you get out of the way.

I learned that lesson the hard way, and now when you talk about cringe-worthy moments, I think back from time to time and say, "Wow, they really put me in a completely no-win situation over there." But that was the thinking of the day – just throw people into the deep end of the pool and let them sink or swim – and unfortunately I didn't swim.

But it was a good impetus for me to want to learn on my own in case I was ever in that position again. And as it turned out, I was in that position many times throughout my career and hopefully did it a little better each time.

Now I'm a partner in a company so it's all about management. I picked up a few things along the way and I'm making new mistakes now, but at least I'm not making the same ones. But if you’re not making some mistakes you're not learning.

Follow Brian Rouff on Twitter at @BrianRouff and Imagine Communications at @ImagineComm.

Photo courtesy of Imagine Communications

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