We had an important visitor this week in the UK. I had to change my travel plans to make sure I was on site to act as host. We all wanted to be sure the day’s schedule was perfect. A successful senior leader visit is a great boost for everyone involved (including the senior leader). An unsuccessful visit isn’t.
This week’s visit was indeed a fantastic success. Everyone involved enjoyed themselves, benefited and learned a great deal. I was very pleased. And I was particularly pleased with all the arrangements. Sometimes the key to success is very good people who ‘sweat the detail’.
One such detail we considered was dress code. We wanted to give advice to attendees at the evening meal – business casual (whatever that means) was our choice – and I also needed to make a decision about what I was going to wear for the day.
I knew that our esteemed guest would be very smart in suit and tie. But should I wear a suit as well? A shirt and tie? Business casual? What would everyone expect? What would my guest think?
In the end I ran out of time (and options) and so just went for it and wore my brightest shirt with smart trousers. No suit. No tie. It was cold in the morning as I set off in the morning to meet our guest at the hotel. I put on my favourite jacket – warm, weatherproof, and smart…seemed like a good choice.
I was sat in the hotel reception when I saw our guest arrive. He was impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. As I stood up to shake his hand, I caught him looking at my jacket with what was clearly a surprised expression. My heart sank briefly. A bad choice. But there was nothing I could do.
Breakfast was excellent – we covered a lot of ground – and we moved onto site for the more formal part of the visit. And sure enough, there were at least three or four additional times during the day when I spotted that same expression in the direction of my jacket. I felt quite guilty really…and actually a little exposed. There was still nothing I could do during the day. Maybe I should have worn my suit after all. Perhaps I should have asked for more advice. I resolved that next time I would give myself more time to plan.
At the end of what had been an outstanding day, we were due to leave my office for our evening meal. I had no choice. I had to put my jacket on again in front of our guest. There was nowhere to hide. And sure enough he looked again…straight at my jacket and then straight at me. That same face. But this time he spoke…’I really like your jacket’. ‘I’ve heard so much about that range but haven’t seen one close up before.’ ’It looks great’. ‘Where did you get it?’
I was staggered. All that time there was me…concerned about what he was thinking. Worried that I was ‘under-dressed’. And in the end…after all that…he was actually admiring my jacket. I felt so stupid. I hadn’t worried a lot…but I had worried.
I sat there as we drove to the restaurant. I kicked myself. I had doubted myself. I had doubted my instinct. I had questioned my own decision based on no data and only my perception. Worse than that I imposed my anxieties onto our guest. I assumed he was making a judgement. A negative one. Indeed he was making a judgement. A positive one.
Note to self…