Mark Sato

“Learning To Fill the Huge, Fashionable Shoes That Came Before You”

What was this rookie assignment (the role, task or event)? 

The rookie assignment was my first class as a corporate (non technical) trainer – delivering 2 hours of financial certification training and test preparation to 50 customer service and marketing reps in the company’s brand new auditorium.

When was it? Set the scene of the time you were in.

It was sometime in late 1989.  Hair was as big as the shoulder pads in your suit – and at the time I had both (heavy product, part down the middle “helmet-head”, faux Armani from Macy’s). The financial company where I worked with was conservative, hardworking, and growing rapidly; and the participants in this training were preparing for the gateway licensing test for financial services. Many had hopes of future sales or investment research careers, and the lucrative salaries and perks that accompanied them, including real Italian designer suits with requisite big shoulders.

What were nervous or worried about?

I was nervous about two things – transitioning from a week-long, highly technical phone service rep training for 18 new hires that I had mastered, to an open, larger, lecture-based stand-up presentation with a more critical group. I was a good phone service rep and knew all of the ways for people to be productive on the job with the technical content, and was completely comfortable sharing my knowledge with these appreciative newbies. While holding this certification myself, I had no experience in sales or marketing and had applied this financial information only in a customer service sense.

What were you hopeful about?

I also had some huge (actual Gucci) loafers to fill. The senior trainer in the department, and my coach and mentor Robb, was the epitomized the type of facilitator I aspired to, but really was out of my league. He was eloquent, precise, and knowledgeable; he had explored sales opportunities within the company and had studied for and passed the next level financial certification test. He knew every answer and could anticipate every question.

Looking back, he was truly a Multiplier, even before the term was coined. He provided feedback and pushed me to create and customize my own notes based on his highly detailed and flawless presentation; and gave me space to try and good counsel when I failed. I learned a lot from Robb and knew he would be supportive.

What was the outcome?

Thinking now about Rookie Smarts: The energy and pushing yourself to take risks can drive better engagement and performance. I try to remain topical on references when leading workshop and keynotes; not so much for impact or “trying to be cool and drop names, musical artists or movies” to the audience, but to keep myself engaged. The benefit of experience and expertise in content/practice is absolutely necessary in everyone’s job; I think the connection to make yourself engaged and keep things fresh and new for yourself is necessary as well.

What would be possible in your current job if you could re-invigorate this same rookie self?

The presentation was a blur. I still remember the energy in the group. By pure luck I remembered the name of someone from the Marketing team sitting in the upper back row of the auditorium, and referenced him later during the presentation.

The evaluations were great (especially from the guy in Marketing), but how I felt about my performance, good or bad, rested with the feedback I got from Robb. I specifically remember two parts of the feedback: one was how the screen behind the stage of the auditorium was not all the way closed, and hung down about an inch – “it’s a small thing, but could be distracting to people in the audience.” The second thing he said, I can only paraphrase; but the look of subtle pride, I still remember: “you connected well with them.”

Years later I connected with Robb and shared how he positively influenced and helped me; and again there was no Multiplier dialogue to share but he definitely was a big Multiplier for me. Soon I was giving presentations to hundreds, including members of the exec team, while managing the company management trainee program. Still had the helmet head though…

  • “If you want to be a learning machine, improving and growing every year, this is the book for you.”
    SVP of People Operations, Google, Inc.
  • “Agility, resilience, grit, and a growth mindset—these are the attributes effective leaders need in a changing world. Rookie Smarts shows leaders at every age and at every stage of their careers how to master these skills.”
    University of Michigan professor and author of Leadership Sustainability
  • “Wiseman masterfully shows why novices can outdo veterans, expertise blinds us to fresh ideas, and the brilliance of newbies remains untapped. With sage insights and fascinating examples, Rookie Smarts is a must-read.”
    Wharton professor and author of Give and Take
  • “As a company grows, nothing is more important than retaining a culture of innovation. Rookie Smarts shows how even a big company can take risks, innovate, and operate like a challenger.”
    Chairman and CEO,