The first big global meeting I ever attended was longer ago that I care to remember. I remember it was somewhere warm – Florida maybe…and more likely than not at the start of a particular year – almost certainly a ‘year of change’.
I remember sitting in the large meeting room not really knowing anyone and wondering if I really deserved to be there. I remember sitting in awe as individuals who I had only heard of before came on stage and presented. I also remember there weren’t ever many questions at the end of the sessions. No-one ever seemed willing to put their hands up.
One global president gave a keynote in which he sought to engage and inspire the audience. He quoted examples from politics and movies, from his own career and leaders he had worked with and for. One message sticks in my mind even now…that ‘everyone working for our company comes to work every day to do the best they can for the company.’
I remember sitting there trying to convince myself to put my hand up when he finished to ask my question. But nobody else asked anything…so I resolved to catch him at the break instead.
I shook his hand and introduced myself – he had heard my name apparently but we had never met before. I thanked him for his presentation and told him how much I loved the pictures he had used and stories he had told.
He smiled and thanked me. I then told him that I didn’t agree with his statement about ‘everyone working for our company’. He looked surprised and replied ‘why not?’ ‘Well’ – I paused and took a breath – ‘I believe that everyone working for our company comes to work every day to do the best they can for themselves’. He looked shocked…or maybe just disappointed.
I quickly delivered my punchline (fearing that I could see my career rapidly dissipating in front of me)…‘but the beauty of being a leader in our company is that we have opportunity to ensure that these two sets of goals – the best for the company and the best for any individual – are one and the same’.
I breathed again and waited. He looked at me squarely in the eyes, smiled, shook my hand, thanked me and walked off. I didn’t speak to him again that week, but he sent me a handwritten message the following week, thanking me for engaging in the meeting and asking me to follow up on my question with a leader in Human Resources. I breathed again.
Even now I am still not sure if he – or me – was right or wrong in our statements. But I am certain that my philosophy is the one I still strive to achieve. Working to align personal growth and personal goals with business growth and business goals – for myself and for anyone I work with – feels like the best (if not necessarily the right) approach.
Either alternative – solely insisting that everyone only ever does what a company wants them to do…irrespective of whether that meets their personal agenda…feels like it is missing opportunity. Simply allowing anyone to work on what they want to, and in a way they want to, irrespective of business needs…feels like it is missing responsibility.
I was in the mid-west last week and was reminded of my first global meeting during a number of engaging and inspiring discussions with colleagues and leaders about our work, about our people, about me and about our partner companies.
Timely discussions as one ‘year of change’ nears its end and another ‘year of change’ gets closer.