(Author’s Note: The week’s events surround the Olympian Ryan Lochte’s fabricated story and his doubling-down before a weak attempt to walk it back, reminded me of a challenging scenario I face some years back. Here was my recounting of the tough lesson learned from my failure to effectively self-edit.)
(Originally written in 2009)
By David Avrin, CSP
I just got my lunch handed to me by a business prospect and will be eating “humble pie” for months to come. It was a humiliating lesson, exacted upon a careless and overly-casual “professional” by an astute and thoughtful company leader. File this under: “Do as I say – not as I did.”
I arrived this afternoon for my third face-to-face meeting with a strong prospect for my CEO roundtable group. I’ll call him “Mike.” Assuming that this was the final step of the evaluation process with an impressive company leader, I believed that Mike and I both had found a strong fit and would likely be progressing with a formal membership application. He would soon be joining the CEO roundtable group and I would be his executive coach.
After moving beyond the greetings and pleasantries, we took our seats in his office as Mike closed the door. As he sat by his desk, he began our discussion by explaining that he had been struggling with an internal dynamic at his company whereby his customer service staff and administration staff were “badmouthing” each other. Worst yet, they were expressing dissatisfaction with their coworkers in conversations with customers. He explained that when a customer called with a complaint about their bill or the service that had been provided, Admin would say that the Customer Service department had clearly dropped the ball, or Customer Service would throw Admin under the bus by blaming them for whatever the problem was. He was struggling with how best to confront the situation.
Mike continued: “Then I got this voice mail message last Friday,” and he turned to the phone on his desk, hit the “Speakerphone” button and began to dial. To my surprise, the voice on the recording was my own.
“Hi Mike,” I said. “This is David Avrin and yes, you are correct, the meeting place listed in the e-mail invitation was wrong. Some ‘Bone-Head’ from the corporate office sent out the wrong location.” Then, without ever taking his gaze off of me, Mike pressed a button on the phone rewinding it slightly. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…” Click. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…” Click. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…”
I sat speechless as Mike leaned back in his chair and after a brief pause, looked me in the eye and said: “So here’s my dilemma Dave, I’m looking for an executive coach to help me become a better leader and deal with issues such as how to confront poor internal behavior, and this is the message I received from my leading candidate. What the hell do I do with this?”
As he spoke, all I could do was nod knowingly, acknowledging that everything he was saying was true and the concern he expressed was richly-deserved. I had screwed-up – big time. Not just because my poorly-considered, off-hand comment had violated my covenant with a trusted and valued corporate partner, but because I had damaged my credibility with someone I respected. The resulting challenge to my judgment and credibility was no one’s fault but my own.
In the moment, I knew the worst thing I could do was to attempt an excuse, or try to talk around the massive “elephant” sitting in the middle of the room. Instead, I acknowledged what we both knew to be true. I screwed up. I offered my apology and told him that he was right to “call me out” on my poor behavior and that my credibility was essentially “nil!”
I explained that in my effort to be casual and familiar in my correspondence, I used a very poor choice of words. More likely, I offered, in dismissing or even denigrating someone else for what was clearly an honest mistake, I was basically implying that I wouldn’t be guilty of such an infraction. Of course we all make mistakes, and ascribing blame, regardless of the legitimacy, was clearly wrong.
As I flashed-back to my frustrated state when I made the phone call to Mike following the errant e-mail blast, I realized that my remarks were simply a poorly-considered, knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on “jerk”) to a communication that I feared would damage his perception of me and our organization. Instead, it was my actions that diminished our credibility. So once again, all I could do was apologize.
We went on to have a solid and meaningful discussion about the value of our leadership roundtable and his prospective involvement, but the reality of what had transpired hung over the conversation. What will happen from here on is unclear, but what is clear is that my professional reputation with this company leader was tarnished – by my behavior. It is a bell that can’t be un-rung.
One of my favorite expressions states that: “Experience comes from bad decision, and good decisions come from experience.” This is a bad decision I will not repeat.
Do you learn from your professional mistakes? Do you sometimes look back at your early work experiences and cringe at some of the things you did and said. It’s true for most of us. I would submit that every time an inappropriate thought crosses your mind, but fails to cross your lips, then that’s clear evidence of a lesson well-learned. And we are still learning – myself included. Sometimes even “The Coach” needs a coach.
Your personal and professional brand is not your logo or your tag line. It is not the colors of your lobby or the greeting offered to your customers. Your brand is not merely the jingle on your commercials or the cleanliness of your bathroom. It is everything. It’s everything that you do, and everything you don’t do well in your business. Your brand is what others think about you when you leave the room, or when they leave your business. How well are you crafting, reinforcing and protecting your personal and professional brand?
Today, I stunk up the place. Tomorrow I will do better. Mea culpa.
David Avrin, CSP is known internationally as the Visibility Coach. A popular business keynote speaker, branding consultant and executive coach, David is the author of the celebrated: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You! and his latest: Visibility Marketing (2016 Career Press) Learn more and watch a preview video at www.VisibilityInternational.com