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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Difficult Situations / Staying Calm (thanks Michele - again)

Now, you might have guessed already that “business humming” means there aren't difficult situations. Or more precisely very few: human error, mis-communication, divine acts – that sort of thing.

The truly difficult situations I have encountered were generated by bad intent or a lack of honesty.

For example:

In an arrangement where we were to sub-contract to another consulting company to provide our expertise to their client, we were asked, on the spot, to explain their contract to their client. Hopefully, this sounds weird already. What made it worse was that the consulting company hadn't provided us the latest copy of the contract until the last minute, and it was a version that contained material we had asked them to correct.

So here is a deal, with a new, big client, very important to us, that is hanging in the middle of a conference call, when the consulting company suddenly handed off to us to explain a contract that was unexplainable. Based on my prior corporate role models and experience, I would have tried to save everyone's face, and wriggle my way through with some fluffy explanation and fancy footwork.

But because of BootCamp and my alignment of integrity, I just told the truth: “This isn't the correct version of the contract; let's meet again later with the corrected version.”

Did the client hang up believing we were all bozos? They should have, but they didn't. We went on with a business relationship that started in 2005 and is continuing today.

The most difficult situation I have ever faced occurred as a corporate employee when I was dismissed without warning based on a false accusation. That was definitely a Nietzsche experience: “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”1 During the legal proceedings that followed, I had moments when I literally couldn't breathe. I'll spare you the gory details because the settlement I won after 6 years prohibits me from continuing the story.

But those things have never, and will never happen to me as a business owner and consultant, because the client relationship is built on two way trust. And now the difficult moments are the ones where the client repeatedly thanks us to the point of embarrassment.

As for staying calm and detached, I think that's a myth fostered by my publicist and groupies. I certainly work hard at keeping my head when others around me seem to be loosing theirs, but I also have my moments. I don't know how one can be passionate about their work, finding the best solutions, getting great results, without getting excited. And since Vickie and I arrange to have Work = Play we always make room for fun, laughter, and energy.

We don't do our Monty Python imitations in the boardroom in front of the CEO and the leadership team, unless they take the lead, or we are desperate to make a point.

But calmness is an attribute I developed as a camp leader, pool lifeguard, father of four, sailplane, hang glider, and ultra-light pilot, among other experiences. It's just not helpful to instill the thrill of flying in a passenger while moving through some bumpy air and have the pilot scream, “We're going to die” and attempt to jump out of the plane.

What are the take aways? (And I don't mean fast food for my English friends and relatives.)

  • Conduct business based on strongly connected relationships.
  • Build those through honesty which leads to trust.
  • Don't flip the Bozo Bit on someone based on an isolated incident or single mis-understanding.
  • Don't panic. (Thanks Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
  • Make fun and find friendly ways to make your clients laugh.
  • Make sure you can deliver the required results – get help or get out.

(And I don't really have a publicist nor groupies – that I am aware of.)

1 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900), Twilight of the Idols, 1888

Next time: some thoughts on Leadership.


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