We can often tell a great deal about executive leaders and entrepreneurs by how they behave in challenging situations. At VIM Executive Coaching we often see how executives behave in less formal “corporate” settings. They may be at seminars, continuing education programs, trade show break-out sessions and even at business dinners. Experiencing how executive leaders interact with one another away from the office can reveal some very telling behavioral signs.
Not long ago, I was made aware of an unusual car ride involving five executives. A close friend accepted a ride with four other executives who worked at the same pharmaceutical sales organization. They were all upper level management, and they were heading to a mountain “luxury hotel and executive retreat” in a rented, high-end SUV. The purpose of the conference was to discuss, “Personnel Challenges and Personal Growth.” Pretty heady stuff I would say. They even had a high-priced facilitator who was flying in from New York! The retreat was about two hours from the corporate headquarters.
The executive vice president was the self-selected driver and he was humming along at a comfortable 20 mph over the speed limit. The conversation was light and easy, focusing on football, the newest putters and other safe topics. My friend was somewhat surprised that no one seemed concerned about the need to cover important information at the retreat. Indeed, the company was undergoing some challenging times where issues such as executive growth were vitally important.
While everyone in the SUV saw the signage, no one seemed to care very much that a “reduced speed ahead, possible long delays” warning had been posted. At one point someone said something about, “Some fool is probably changing his tire in the left lane,” but the consensus was that by the time they got there, it would have been cleared.
Sure enough, about 45 minutes ahead of their intended exit the traffic started to slow, then it crawled and it virtually stopped. For a few more minutes the conversation continued on about fairly irrelevant topics before one of the executive’s broke ranks and began to spout off against tourists who didn’t know how to drive in the mountains. Another executive mused that it was the fault of politicians who were too ineffective to get proper funding to widen the blankety-blank parkways, and still another started a steaming diatribe on Congress! The angry conversation kept getting ratcheted-up until my friend became embarrassed at the immaturity of the executives. He decided to focus on looking out of the windows at the mountains and wondering what the problem might be that was causing the snail-like pace.
One of the angry executives asked my friend what he thought of the idiot governor, and my friend, hoping to deflect all of the negativity, wisely said, “I think right now I could use a good cup of coffee and a donut and leave the politics alone!”
He didn’t deflect anything, the angry rants worsened as the traffic virtually stopped and an ambulance roared past them on the shoulder. The driver laughed that he should follow the ambulance, while another executive made an inappropriate comment about the probable nationality of the driver.
No Wonder We’re in Trouble
As the expensive, SUV crept up on the scene, the conversation quieted. They saw a five-car pile-up. The vehicles were mangled, one very badly and there were several first responders tending to multiple passengers.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” said my friend.
“Like I said,” said the driver, “these idiots don’t know how to drive up here.”
As the parkway again opened up, someone in the car found a news report on his smartphone. One of the drivers suffered a massive heart attack. He was slowing and got rear-ended. The heart attack victim was in extremely critical condition. His attack, in turn, set off a chain of terrible events with multiple, severe injuries. To my friend’s shock and amazement, one of the executives said, “Maybe it’s the facilitator!” Another executive wondered if they could cancel the pointless conference and play a round of golf. A third executive said: “Did you see that clunker? I wonder if she even had insurance!”
Those in the car were so far removed from the tragic situation they could not respond to the suffering of others. They were devoid of compassion and of even developing the empathy of imagining themselves or their loved ones in that terrible situation.
It was no surprise to me that my friend accepted a position with another company two weeks after the conference. No one could understand why. He is now thriving in a new, more responsive environment. When mindfulness and compassion leave, often reaction and negativity take their place. When that happens, no one wins. At VIM Executive Coaching our goal is to help mindfulness return to this road we call life.