Assumptions and Diplomacy in CEO/Board Communication
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An athletic woman came up to the first aid station tent of the Medical Reserve Corps and asked, “I need some advice.” She looked somewhat pained.
She was at one of the public events at the USA Pro Cycling race start in Durango, Colorado, and she was dusty along one side of her body. I was easy to deduce what had happened –she had tumbled off her bike.
“I hurt my shoulder, along here.” she traced a line just above her clavicle.
I know what she feared, but given that she was touching her shoulder and moving it, even somewhat pained, meant she had only a sprain and bruise. Ice therapy and ibuprofen is all that she needed. Moments later, one of the doctors came into the tent and verified the diagnosis. She had three of us now tending to her, 2 EMTs and now a doctor. She relaxed.
“I am so glad you’re here,” she said in a gentle, sincere voice.
I held the ice pack in place while she waited for her husband. She offered to hold it herself, which meant contracting multiple anterior muscles, but I just sat next to her holding the ice. All I could think of was how sore she’d be tomorrow, and how my holding the ice might help reduce that even slightly, and how my sitting with her could ease her emotionally as well.
“I am just so glad you’re here. Thank you.” She would repeat this again, and again once more in the next hour.
Her sincere thanks made me wonder what ways I can just be there for others.
– Mark Haeussler
Leadership is not defined by roles, titles, longevity, or hash-marks on a sleeve. Leadership is recognizing, in a moment, that we can make a difference, and then stepping into leadership in that moment. We lead from any chair. We lead at home, at a market, at school, and in our morning commute. Moreover, of course, we lead in the boardroom.
Boardroom leadership is about mastering dialog. Conversations take up most of the time with boards and CEOs. After all, it is what boards and CEOs do – they discuss things. It is the foundation of the relationship.
Are the interactions between the board and CEO feeling typical, an all-too familiar pattern of conversation? Is information analyzed and are decisions made the same way? Do you find yourself seeing the same conversations working, but not well enough?
This week, after I helped the kids on the school bus, the temperature already was 99 degrees at 8:12am. Yikes!, I knew the temperature would soar that day. Later, I found myself at the store in 116 degree, intense sun, weather, trolling the parking lot not for the closest spot, but a spot with any shade. I wanted to avoid the sun and the heat more than anything. I wonder how else we have, or create, hot days in leadership, encouraging people to duck from the sun rather than being able to consider other important things? How much energy do I put into finding the “shade” rather than working to affect positive change?
I travel a lot. I am so grateful of GPS units and when someone else volunteers to drive and my responsibility is merely to navigate. Jennifer was driving one day in greater Los Angeles and I was dutifully calling out the directions from the GPS unit so she could concentrate on traffic. I would give her a final warning of turns at 100 yards. Sometimes I would call it out as 300 feet. This worked well for me, given the many years spent on football fields in marching bands. I knew what it looked like, and I can, literally, march off 100 yards with my eyes closed.
I began to notice that Jennifer would begin asking me, “Is it this street?” frequently after the 100-yard notice. So I tried giving her the 300-foot notice, and still she would start asking me for how many blocks that meant. Finally, she says, “Look Mark, you’re doing great giving me which way to turn, but this distance thing just isn’t working for me. I don’t have the same sense of distance that you have.”
What a dork I was! I was assuming that my experiences were hers, and that what I would find relevant in navigating, she would find relevant in navigating. My directions were not useful to her, even as we both shared the same goal: To get to the client on time and safely. Yet my leadership wasn’t congruent with her needs. We worked out that I would give her a 3-street notice before turning, as she thought in number of turns, not feet and yard. We’ve never missed a turn since.