Unlocking potential: The responsibility of being someone’s first boss

Sarah Stevenson | 3 July 2023

In our roles as leaders, parental figures, and older siblings, we have a responsibility to ensure younger generations’ first experiences are good ones; in fact, excellent ones. Without getting too Freudian, our early experiences disproportionately shape our preferences, the way we feel about work, conduct relationships, predict behaviour, and importantly impact our confidence and self-esteem.

I’ve experienced two very different ‘firsts’ these last few weeks. I’m a Depeche Mode nut, and had the good fortune of taking my nine-year-old to her first concert, when our heroes were playing at Twickenham (I know, a bit niche for a 9 year old). It’s fair to say she had a good time; she was transfixed, moved to tears during her favourite tracks, and has been floating on air ever since. I now have no doubt that she will go into teenage years, with the same gusto and excitement as I did for impending gigs.

On the other hand, another close family member, has had a shocking first; his first experience in the professional workplace.

His conscientiousness, loyalty and initiative largely ignored, by the same manager that is ever ready to publicly criticise, take credit for his work and ridicule his light expressions of individuality. He’s put up with dysfunctional and destructive leadership for the last two years, however, due to lack of a better benchmark, has diligently continued working under the guise, that this is the norm for both working life, and the industry he works in.

We’ve all got that teacher that we can credit for inspiring and shaping future study (Mrs Motashami); however, as leaders, do we stop to consider our seminal role as guardians of young recruits’ formative experiences and vision of the workplace? Shouldn’t we think more intentionally about the impact we can have (good and bad), and not take lightly our responsibility of shepherding younger generations, and providing constructive, but positive, early experiences of working life.

I was lucky; the positive influence my first boss in recruitment had on me, went way beyond the workplace. Helen Stokes, who sadly passed, was responsible for showing me the ropes. Making the transition between my chaotic and irresponsible university days, and a high-expectation London workplace, was a learning curve. Helen gently but firmly, showed me the boundaries, demonstrated how hard work does lead to results; and the two most important lessons – she provided me with the confidence to remain authentic, and to retain a sense of humour when things were stressful. Work felt like play to me, which has set the bar high for my future employers.

So, a challenge to the leadership population: view your greener recruits as an opportunity to role model great leadership. Consider if you should be more forgiving, where lack of worldliness impacts workplace conduct – it is your responsibility to provide a learning environment to develop skills, experience as well as understanding of workplace relationships and etiquette. Be that boss that people credit as the catalyst to their careers, developing personally and for not dreading Sunday nights.


Sarah Stevenson is a Director within our interim management team at NSCG.

Learn more about Sarah here.

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