He was a retired general of the United States Marine Corps and I liked him. But, we were on opposite sides of an issue, with significant impediments to finding common ground and a mutually agreeable solution. I am not sure that he liked me but he didn’t seem to dislike me either. He knew that my team and I were responsible for preparing and presenting our organization’s side of the argument; we controlled the data.
Earlier in the year, my boss and I had made a trip to his city and had discussed the issue with him. Since that first meeting, things had changed and he came to our location to renew the discussion. His organizational position had been weakened by events that he could not control and he wanted to find a solution quickly before more ground was lost.
During the second round of discussions, we met in a conference room near my boss’ office. It was large, comfortable and had all of the right technology. The schedule had four parts: a short time of greeting in my boss’ office, two periods of presentations and discussions with a short break between, and a very short discussion of decisions and “way ahead” with only the senior members involved.
It was during the break between discussions that the General surprised me. I was in my office grabbing a binder when I turned around and saw him enter the outer office. My personal office had two doors, one to the outer office and one to the hallway. As soon as I saw the General, I went out to the outer office and made small talk, ready to go back upstairs to the conference room. As we started to leave, he turned, passed me and walked into my office. He looked around, paused for a couple of moments and then said “Can we leave through this door?” pointing to the door to the hallway. I responded, “Of course, Sir,” and we headed back upstairs. It made no sense to leave going through my office, but that was the route he wanted to take.
Later, as I shared a summary of the discussions with a Marine colleague, I made mention of the General’s visit to my office. My friend stopped me and asked, “You know what he was doing, don’t you?” I shook my head. He went on to explain, “He wanted to know more about you. He was sizing you up by seeing how you live and work.” I was a little surprised that I had not figured this out by myself. Of course – he wanted to know if I was who I presented myself to be.
What does your work space say about you? What about the other areas of your life that people see and hear: your appearance, your speech, your treatment of others, your habits?
What are we communicating to others?
Perhaps our ability to lead successfully is being undermined by our own inconsistencies.
Is it time to do some cleaning?
“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” (I Samuel 12:24)