Photo caption: Someone has some really big shoes to fill…

Last year around this time, I didn’t like my job very much. I had applied for a leadership role within my department, but after going through a miscarriage and realizing the effects of stress on the body, I decided to withdraw my application. My employer hired someone else for the role – someone who has made the biggest difference in my career than anyone has ever made before.

Last week, I received the unfortunate news that he has resigned. He has accepted another position that aligns more with his long-term career goals and his last day will be 2/21.

Marc Atwood, you will be sorely missed. I don’t even think you realize how missed you’ll be. When you walked into our office, the three of us copywriters were cranking out 100-200 product descriptions a day out of sheer obligation. I’m sure you could see the lack of motivation on our faces. I’m sure you could sense the stress we felt at being told to sacrifice quality for quantity’s sake – an idea that is virtually foreign to creative, right-brained people. I’m sure you could tell that we just weren’t happy.

You came in, asked lots of questions and started to fight for us. Thanks to you, we saw changes we never thought we’d see. Within several weeks, the pressure to clear the queue of products was lifted off our shoulders, and within several months, I had a completely new job description. I actually liked my job for the first time in a long time. I got calls every day from recruiters who had found my resume online, and I turned them all down because I was happy where I was. But it wasn’t even really the job itself or the company that I work for that made me want to stay put. It was the fact that I had a great leader.

You mentioned that we embraced you as our leader right away. Well, of course we did. You embraced us first. The way I see it, we had no other choice. It was so refreshing to have someone come in and actually give a shit about who we are as people and what kinds of things keep us engaged and motivated to do our jobs better. It was amazing to see someone make decisions with our customers foremost in his mind, and to empower us to do the same.

You also mentioned that you’ve watched me transform over the last few months. I’ve watched myself transform and it has been an amazing feeling. Back when I applied for your position, our manager told me I needed to “do more to prove my leadership skills.” What she really meant by that is, “you’re an introvert, and because you don’t talk a lot, other people in this organization feel that you’re incapable of taking on a leadership role.”

That was extremely frustrating and discouraging for me to hear. I’m sure she was trying to encourage me and push me out of my comfort zone, but I think it actually had the opposite effect. Since you came on board, you found positive ways of encouraging all of us to step forward and take ownership of things that we never before felt empowered enough to own. When we sat in my interview for the Content Strategy role a few weeks ago, I was asked by another coworker how I’ll overcome the impression people have of me as a quiet, passive person. I wanted to respond with: “Really? People still think I’m quiet and passive?” I thought I had overcome that barrier.

Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I believe I’ve come out of my shell quite a bit since you’ve been here. I don’t know if it was you taking time to smile at each one of us every day and ask us how we were doing – and being genuinely interested in the answer. I don’t know if it was you encouraging us to make decisions and really take ownership of the projects we were working on. Or maybe it was you caring enough to support us when we felt a need to push back on certain requests. Perhaps it was the new roles we took on as copywriters when the department shift happened and product descriptions moved to another team. I attribute a combination of these things and more to me having a much higher confidence in my abilities and potential moving forward.

In short, you’ve been an amazing leader and mentor, and I think I can speak for us all when I say we are so sad to see you go. The company you’re going to work for is about to gain someone really special.

A lot of companies throw around buzzwords like “employee engagement,” “innovation,” and “improving customer experience.” I can’t help but wonder if they truly understand what those ideas mean. I think good leaders do understand, and they empower their employees to really be innovative and to do what’s right for customers, instead of just talking about these things because they sound nice. If you think they sound nice in theory, just imagine what they look like in practice.

No. Scratch that. We all need to stop imagining, period, and start practicing.

I know I’m preaching to the choir. These are concepts you understand and already strive toward in everything you do as a leader. You know how to give creative direction and feedback so that your employees are motivated to be better. You know what questions to ask and what steps to take in order to effect change. You care about your employees and our customers. You really care; you don’t just talk about how it’s important to care and then make decisions that completely contradict that.

I applied for the lead copywriter position but after you walked in I realized it was a role I wasn’t quite ready for. You’ve taught me so many things about copywriting, content strategy, UX and leadership in such a short time. I’ve had the opportunity to build relationships with merchants, designers, content strategists and producers. I’m grateful for you and excited to see where these lessons I’ve learned will take me in the future. And I wish you well in everything you do.

I can’t say it enough. Thank you so much for your leadership. It’s hard to imagine anyone filling your shoes, but I hope that whoever does has the level of care and commitment to customers and employees that you’ve demonstrated. And I hope they feel empowered from people on a higher level to make decisions that will truly drive innovation long term. 

Oh, and if you’re ever hiring, please don’t hesitate to contact me.