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Steven Manchel: “Don’t fall in love with your own work…too soon”

Be brutally honest with yourself about your reasons for leaving a job and, should you still decide leaving your place of employment to go to the competition is the right decision, then take comfort in knowing that the transition can absolutely be done the right way and that, if you do it the right way, […]

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Be brutally honest with yourself about your reasons for leaving a job and, should you still decide leaving your place of employment to go to the competition is the right decision, then take comfort in knowing that the transition can absolutely be done the right way and that, if you do it the right way, you can still succeed at your next company.


Aspart of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Manchel. Steven is the author of a new book, entitled, I Hereby Resign. After clerking at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Steven has spent the last 30 years specializing in employee transition matters. He possesses the highest possible attorney rating. His book, built around a Harvard Business School Case Study that he still helps teach, sets out important guidelines, completely devoid of any legalese, for everyone involved in the recruiting process, and has been critically (and popularly) received.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

Truthfully, I never really had any kind of Great Plan. My father was a college professor and, as a result, I grew up in an academic environment and loved school and learning. Eventually, my love of arguing triumphed, so I became a litigation attorney. Subsequently, I happened to stumble into the world of employees transitioning from their jobs to the competition. I realized over time that, in order for such a move to be successful, there needed to be a process, or discipline, created to address the tension between what might be a good business strategy and what the law allowed. I also found that people, understandably, focused on such things as whether they had an employment contract or Non-Competition Agreement, which only applies after you quit. The biggest problems and risks occur before you say, “I resign.” My legal work led me to co-author a Case Study for the Harvard Business School, where I have helped teach that study for 17 years, and it, in turn, became the heart of I Hereby Resign.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

At this point, I have handled, directly and indirectly, thousands of job transitions, and as you might imagine, have seen some unbelievable things. Among the most interesting involved a group of employees who “secretly” worked on setting up a new competing firm using the current firm’s server to document their next steps. Needless to say, they made demonstrating how the coup occurred and who was involved exceptionally easy!

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about it that other aspiring writers can learn from?

My biggest challenge was to create something on a subject — leaving a job to join the competition — that not only had yet to be addressed by anyone, but also writing it in a way that, at least from what I was advised by people purportedly in the know, went against the current wisdom. Specifically, I wanted to write a very user-friendly, short (the book is 84 pages) and practical guide that was completely devoid of legalese, and I wanted to write it for both individuals and the hiring companies so that each side could see, and appreciate, how their counterpart in the recruiting process needed to act.

I overcame those concerns with the help of my father, Frank, who has written and published numerous books, and the help of a close friend with whom I have taught at Harvard Business School, Boris Groysberg. Mostly what I needed was for someone I respected to validate what I already believed was the best approach. Both advised me that the best-written books are those written in the author’s voice.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first decided I wanted to be an author, I wrote half a book and started pitching it to publishers thinking that, if no one liked the first part, I wasn’t going to spend the time and energy to finish the book. Somehow, I still don’t know why, one publisher actually agreed to look at it and, well, let’s just say the feedback I received was not very positive. The lesson to me was obvious: be humble, not cocky, and finish the whole book before releasing it!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m working on a murder mystery set in the financial services world. A kind of “John Grisham goes to Wall Street” thriller.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

The stories in the book are actually compilations in order to protect client confidentiality, but one of my favorites concerns the (understandable) desire of people leaving their jobs who want to keep information that they believe will help them succeed in the next position.

I do legal recruiting work all over the United States. In many cities and towns outside of large metropolitan areas, it’s not unusual to find a limited number of high-rise professional services buildings. As a result, such buildings are often occupied by competing companies. Consequently, it’s not unusual for a person leaving their company to take the elevator up or down to their next job. As my oldest son would say, “Awkward!”

One day, I get a call from a hiring manager with an office in the Midwest, and he says, “I think the person we are bringing on board today is running all around the park in front of the building trying to pick up papers.”

That would be the same park which the soon-to-be-former company also faces.

Summoning all of my acute legal skills, I reply, “Seriously? Ok, I will call.”

When I finally reach the hire, I ask her if, by any chance, she had been running around the park in front of the office building chasing after documents being blown around in the wind.

After a brief pause, she said, “Yes, that was me. I know you told me not to take anything, but I really had to keep some of my more important project materials. When I was loading the last box in the trunk of my car, the wind whipped up and blew the tops of the boxes off and sent the papers flying across the park.”

Needless to say, what followed was not great.

DON’T TAKE STUFF WHEN YOU LEAVE!

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

Be brutally honest with yourself about your reasons for leaving a job and, should you still decide leaving your place of employment to go to the competition is the right decision, then take comfort in knowing that the transition can absolutely be done the right way and that, if you do it the right way, you can still succeed at your next company.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Be patient. Writing, at least for me, comes in surges and changes direction and can be extremely frustrating. I often walk away from the desk to clear my mind. Don’t rush things, and be confident enough to trust the natural ebbs and flows of this process.

2. Be open to change. The way my book reads now is nothing like it read in the first draft. Writers need to be willing to make wholesale changes to the manuscript. There’s a big difference between great ideas about which to write and the way those concepts are ultimately presented. Don’t be afraid to cut and paste!

3. Don’t fall in love with your own work…too soon. One of the primary reasons I had (at least) two readers go over my book early in the process was because I really liked what I wrote, but understood that it didn’t mean, necessarily, that it was as good as it could be. It’s imperative to seek constructive, objective critiques of your book before “going public.”

4. Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite. I view no single trait is more important than the discipline, and the grit, that it takes to review what you’ve written over and over again. Each time I did so, I found everything from substantive errors, to typos, to just better ways of expressing an important point. You have to stick with it!

5. Let it go. The act of releasing your project to the world (or a publisher) is so hard. It’s hard both because you now open yourself up to everyone being able to comment, and because it’s a labor of love that you believe can still be made better. The problem is, if it’s never published, the book will never be read by anyone other than you (and your proofreaders)!

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study). Can you share a story or an example?

Experience, both professional and personal. When you write, you’re reaching out in many respects to an unknown audience, and certainly to people you don’t know (and can’t speak to or see). As a result, you have to bring something to them, something that you can share and, consequently, something that connects you with the reader. I really believe that my professional focus and my life experiences, in general, allowed me to create a useable and engaging book.

As an example, each week, for almost 30 years now, I speak to anywhere from two to six people, all over the country (and at times internationally), who are thinking about leaving their jobs. I have handled, directly and indirectly, thousands of transitions. From that experience, I’ve come to understand things well beyond the law, such as the psychology and optics of job movement. As a result, I can communicate with and understand and fully empathize with what they are experiencing. I believe, strongly, that these things make me, and my writing, stronger.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

My father’s books. His last two books, Exits and Entrances and Every Step A Struggle, were so wonderful and so brave.

They’re focused on the effects of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s on black film history. No one wanted to publish the material when it was first collected because it was deemed to be too controversial. My father so admired the people he interviewed, and the sacrifices they made and the obstacles they overcame, that he saved the recordings and then self-published the books, which are terrific.

Having a father who believes that much in what he does, in what is right and wrong, and in the power of the written word, is a great source of inspiration and motivation.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement towards civility, the sharing of different points of view, and listening.

I actually created a website called, “The Film Professor’s Son” (http://www.thefilmprofessorsson.com). It was designed to honor my father and to pass along his views, ultimately, of what makes a movie great and how a great movie can be shared and be transformative. In brief, a great film takes you somewhere, teaches you something, and often lets you see the world in a different light.

In this day and age of divisiveness and just overall bad energy, I truly believe folks should sit down together and watch a good movie.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on LinkedIn and have a website, www.manchelbrennan.com.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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