Sunday, May 27, 2012

Own your embarassment

So this past week something rather amusing happened to me.

My company has an attachment to this management training consulting type company.  The lead guy for this company, a rather amusing guy who can categorically be called a wingnut, gives seminars on some management topic or another as part of his business.  As part of our attachment, when they sound topical we bring him in to present them to our managers. 

This month he was giving a talk on how to run efficient useful meetings. Well there ain't no one anywhere who can't use some help in that regard and as such we brought him in.  It was a well attended meeting as well, there were over 20 people crammed into our main boardroom. Which had the 10 seats around the boardroom table and then something like 10 or 15 more sitting around against the wall.  They brought in sandwiches and drinks and we worked (in quotes work should be) through lunch and another hour too. 

As we ate our lunch he proceeded to give us a talk about meetings.  His presentations are very heavily injected with anecdotes from his own personal life, about his wife, his daughters and just about everything else.  He's German originally and has a very in-your-face way about him.  He is very much a hoot to watch and listen to.  A couple of us in the group, myself included because that's the type of people that we are like to give him a bit of trouble but he's a good sport and gives it right back. 

There are group exercises where he stops and has us think up some answers to questions about points he's either just made, wants to make again or is about to make.  he is a pretty good presenter/trainer.  Pretty much any answer ever given him is wrong because he has a curious method of answering his own questions in a way that make you think that you've answered a slightly different question than he did but even that leads to information trading. 

So due to the very intelligent fact that i had another meeting in the boardroom just before the seminar i got a seat, not only at the table but at the head of the table.  he's at the other end in front of a screen presenting.  Before we start he kind of makes a joke about how imposing my straight on look at him is but we laugh it off.  

The seminar goes well. i enjoy it, i participate and so do many others.  Especially the group right behind me that includes the CEO and a couple of directors.  So fast forward a bit, to the last 10 minutes of the presentation.  He's wrapping up and giving one of his longer speeches sailing through a bunch of bullets that kind of recap his ideas.  So i've uh been at meetings for 4 hours straight at this point, haven't been out of that chair in 3 hours and have eaten a higher carb lunch than i'm normally allowed.  During his speech my eyes close.  

I'll fully admit it. My eyes closed.  shut. like midnight.  but i wasn't' asleep...yet.  In fact, truth be told, this actually happened twice in the last 15 minutes of the presentation.  Only, he missed it the first time.  And i didn't fall asleep, i drifted a bit.  Second time though...he didn't miss it. 

He saw it.  As soon as his voice stopped my eyes popped open. i could have told you the last two sentences he'd just read but that didn't really matter.  he made eye contact with me and he tried to recover.  Tried really hard to recover.  He failed.  Then he started talking to me, but in a sort of vague esoteric kind of way that didn't give people context. 

"If only you hadn't been directly in front of me...if you'd been off the side i could have made it."
"Going right along doing great and then i see you"
"i couldn't were one and i couldn't...

Now everyone else on the room except for him and i are completely confused.  They have no clue.  Slowly though, especially when he mimics a person shutting their eyes and sort of slumping over in sleep (that second part never did happen mind you) the crowd figured out what he was talking about.  But they made an assumption.  He kept looking directly at me as he talked but what they saw him to be looking at was the CEO sitting directly behind me.  

The entire room is starting to believe that the CEO had been caught sleeping.  It was very funny for the room, although they weren't super sure how to take it.  the CEO was completely confused though.  he was paying proper attention (probably, how could i tell, he was behind me).  I could find the humour in the room begin to build and decided that i'd best defuse it before the poor CEO had to carry this on him in some way (not to mention permanent damage or mockery, that i was the cause of). 

so i spoke up loud and clear that it was me he was talking to, that my eyes had closed and it derailed him.  and it worked. owning up to the eye closure let him say a couple of more things, let the crowd smile and laugh, at me, and we moved on. 

i don't embarrass easily, i still got what i needed to out of the meeting and everyone had some good laughs.  and in fact, 10 minutes later the HR person who brings him came to my desk and said that he'd asked to be brought in to me to apologize for putting me on the spot like that but she'd assured him that i had such a good sense of humour that it would be fine.   which it was, and i was.  And i love that in 3 months a person i've talked to a dozen times got that right about me. 

The next day, in my scrum with my team i used the little story about what happened as a bonding moment with my team.  One of the things i try to watch with my teams is not to seem to, um, high functioning or unapproachable.  I really prefer a management style of authoritatively approachable.   I like to know more about what's going on than any member of my team, i like to be able to build firm opinions fast enough that there's never any doubt what I think the right course of action is.  But i also like to be approachable so such things can be discussed.  

My relationship with this team is new.  Having this laugh, owning the embarrassment without showing that i believe it degrades from my respect at all, this is part of that.   For the most part it works really well for me.  Have to watch though, you become too much of a clown and the respect goes out the window.  

One positive...i think the only manager at my company who missed the manager. 

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