I've been in marketing for almost 20 years now. The experience I'm about to share -- which happened only a short while ago -- was the first time I witnessed leadership of people, not pro forma business management.

Every job I've ever had has included a perfunctory one-on-one meeting with my boss. Sometimes it's been weekly, sometimes biweekly. It is always a rehashing of pending projects with a task-by-task status update. I understand its purpose: Keep management informed and projects on track. 

Every so often -- typically during more formal job reviews -- I've enjoyed broader conversations about business goals and how my interests align with them. The business interests always come first. 

And then I experienced something radically different. In a recent position, the weekly one-on-one pivoted to a regular discussion of goals, ambitions, and interests. I still framed it as a way to align my skills and passions with the needs of the company. Heck, I even came to one of the meetings with a list of possible tasks I could complete that fit explicitly with quarterly corporate initiatives. 

In our discussion, my boss struggled to identify the real goals behind the tasks. We danced around them. I explained, then I over-explained. Eventually she said something that caught me completely off guard: 

"I want to see what YOUR career goals are. It's my job to figure out how they fit in with company priorities. But I want to know where you want to take your career."


"Not how they fit with quarterly goals?" I eventually responded, sheepishly. 

"No. Just give me the moonshot -- where do you see yourself professionally? What do you want to accomplish?"

I confess what ensued was a wash of confusion. I trained myself -- with corporate assistance along the way -- to think about my interests as secondary to the company in which I was working. After a few days, however, I found some clarity and completely retooled my overarching goals. MY goals.

You can imagine what followed. My investment in the company, my work, my team grew 10-fold. There was still a lot to sort out, of course -- including the sometimes-elusive "how" of goal implementation -- but I was energized. My perspective shifted from "What can I get done today?" to "What can I accomplish today?" A small distinction to some, but in my mind, it was the difference between checking off tasks and making waves.

Here's the lesson for leaders, from someone who's been in the trenches: Invest in the future of your people and they will invest their future in you. 

In a world where job shifting is frequent and loyalty between employer and employee is scarce, this is the new gold standard.