Prior to the time I founded VIM Executive Coaching here in Denver, Colorado, I spent many years as an entrepreneur helping build organizations to position themselves to be sold or be acquired, as well as acquiring companies for other entities. Having proficient teams in place and identifying the most qualified individuals, with the best attitudes for leadership was key to the success of the organizations. Naturally, it was necessary for me to interview many people, at all levels, in the course of working with corporations and entrepreneurs. You can learn a tremendous amount about people in that manner.
As I approach the topic of not taking ourselves too seriously, I well remember a young woman we interviewed for a position in a marketing department. She was doing splendidly well in her interview, saying all of the right things and impressing us with her upbeat personality. Then something happened that set her back. She pulled out a very thick, very impressive business plan that was part of the class requirement for a management course. It was a book filled with charts, graphs and projections. It was obvious a lot of effort had been poured into it.
I got an “A”
She started off by telling us that she had earned an “A” for her effort on the plan in the course. As I turned the pages of the report, I was interested in her process, and the way in which the plan came together. Each statement was an “I” statement; “I did this,” and “I did that.” In fact, by the end of her description of the project she stated: “Someone had to step in and take the leadership role. I decided early on it was much too important a project to leave it up to the group. I took on the role of making sure it was up to standard.”
I must say that it was a good plan. An important aspect of my work as an executive was that I reviewed a great many business plans. This one was stellar for undergraduate work. Yet something bothered me about what she said. She took on the role of claiming great importance for every aspect of the work, to the exclusion of everyone else on the team. Clearly, there were team members who generated the financials, others who explored manufacturing and someone who studied warehousing and distribution, not to mention sales and marketing.
We let her talk and indeed I took her lead in allowing her to brag about her accomplishment.
“Some of the seven team members weren’t very serious,” she said. “I made it clear to them that I was very serious and I would not accept anything but their best effort.”
We all shook hands and of course, wished her well. The way we set up the interview committee (there were five of us) was that we each had a vote. I was the “tiebreaker.” We waited until all of the interviews were concluded before voting. When we got to the woman with the business plan, not surprisingly the vote was 0-5. No one wanted to call her back. At least three members of the committee felt she would be a difficult person to work with – and I agreed.
Self-Importance is a Dangerous Thing
VIM Executive Coaching certainly wants to encourage committed, responsive and mindful executive leaders. We also recognize that a large part of being responsive and mindful – certainly committed, is to develop a sense of compassion.
The person we were interviewing was more than willing to throw the efforts six other “teammates” away in order to impress us with her seriousness. We each, independently wondered how the other members of her group might have responded to her comments. In her explanation of the group effort, there was no compassion and no “we.” She could have been better served by saying, “We all pooled our talents together and some of my teammates really impressed me with their curiosity and intelligence. It was a wonderful experience. I loved working with some of them.”
The job search committee could have easily read between the lines and smiled. We would have understood from our own experience that occasionally there are people who do not pull their weight. Her comments would have conveyed that she was not only being diplomatic and respectful but not taking the process too seriously. This was not conveyed.
Self-important executive leaders often fail to see the contributions of others. It is a dangerous view of the world. Self-important people elevate their importance and cut down those who are also attempting to make a difference.
We are all important to the success and mission of our organizations. For a leader to not recognize that is to doom any project or work group to failure. We must never neglect our mindfulness or compassion.