As I approached the modern, glass-walled conference room, I could see Chris speaking on the phone, though his back was mostly to the hallway. He took a few steps in one direction, then turned and put both his big hands on the table, with his left shoulder pressing the phone to his ear. I stepped up my pace to reach him and as I entered the conference room, he had sunk into a chair, still on the phone. His navy pinstripe suit looked sharp and neatly pressed, but his expression looked like someone had flavored his coffee with the elixar of despair. I tapped him on the shoulder and said firmly, “Get up. Let’s go.” His face changed from upset with a slightly lost look in his eyes to angry and indignant in a flash.
“What?” he demanded.
I pushed the conference room door closed and deliberately kept my grip on the handle as I replied, “Whatever important news we have to discuss this morning needs to be done off-site. You have employees, clients, and guests walking these halls and it’s not appropriate for them to see you broadcasting bad news with your body language. Do you need to grab your coat before we go?” It was similar to the way I’d hold a junior tennis player accountable for showing bad behavior on court: own it, correct it, and move on. Fortunately, Chris responded in the best way: no drama, no denial, no discussion.
In private, Chris shared that the change in the sales team compensation plan he had put into place with his relatively new VP of sales a little more than a week ago was having some major undesirable effects. Instead of thoroughly reviewing all the ways the new criteria would affect his sales team, Chris allowed the VP to announce a plan that was too rules-driven. And on the phone call prior to our meeting, Chris had learned that James, one of this top sales guys, had given notice.
Chris had some tough decisions to make once we reviewed the events that led up to this situation. He might have to adjust his projections. He might have to revise the compensation plan that he had already announced. He might have to do any of a dozen different things to repair this damage and regain positive momentum, but I was already certain of three things. First, Chris needed to be in a better mental state and stop running disaster scenarios in his mind so we could focus on more productive matters. Second, some corrective action needed to be taken fast with the employees – and especially the sales team – to send a signal that further changes were coming to improve the company’s condition. Third, Chris needed my help to learn how to slow down and not make important decisions too quickly or impulsively – especially for those that affected his people, not just his systems.
Your Steps to Success
Be aware that as a leader, you are always being watched, observed, and scrutinized, from the way you wear your smile, to who entrust assignments, to the shine on your shoes. And people will layer meanings onto your actions like cotton candy being spun onto a cardboard stick. Accept that while it’s not fair, it is part of the job, so take responsibility for what’s under your control and let go of what’s not. From my perspective, everyone in an organization needs to adopt this responsibility, whether you’re in management, sales, operations, or administration. Everyone represents the company to one degree or another, so you might as well make the most of the opportunity. Here are a few concrete steps you can take.
- Know that your facial expression and body language convey an even stronger message than the outfit you wear, so invest accordingly by putting time and effort into choosing your focus throughout the day.
When someone wants to have a conversation that is likely to require you to change direction, choose an environment that is appropriate so you can respond appropriately.
The more you can have a buffer of emotional and physical space, the more you’ll be able to make the appropriate rather than the impulsive decision when you’re struck by something and need to react. It’s smart to do some deliberate things in advance in order to create that space.
How do you address this issue in your own business?