Years ago I was sitting in a leadership meeting in Paris, France. In those days I was responsible for the Sales & Marketing division of this particular company, and my CEO is describing all the beautiful projects he wants to get done in the next year, and he is not holding back. The whole whiteboard is covered with at least 15 projects, and I notice that I am getting more irritated by the minute.
Through my head, thoughts arise like “doesn’t he know how busy we already are?” and “doesn’t he see what great things we’re already accomplishing?”. Some minutes later this turns into “he is disconnected with the business; he has no clue what we’re doing” and then into the personal “he doesn’t appreciate me, he’s just up in his head fantasizing.” Of course, the corresponding feelings that are the direct result of this kind of thinking rages through my body: stress, irritation, and frustration make me want to attack the guy verbally, but I hold back. My head gets warmer, and my hands are getting moist as I feel the almost unbearable need to defend myself.
Sure enough, after 10 minutes, Michelle looks at me and say “Rich, could you please take these projects on?”.
I decide to kill him verbally. “Michelle, my friend, listen to me. I get that on your planet this all might make sense, but here, on planet earth, we have something called “reality” and in that reality, there is zero room for any more new projects.”
Silence in the room. People look at me like I am toxic waste and shaking their heads like they wanna say “No! No! No!”.
I get the feeling like I just strangled a cat in front of these people. Five very uncomfortable minutes later everybody has left the conference room, and Michelle demands me to follow him to his office. He is furious and wants to fire me, but I still feel very much that he is clueless.
The next morning, as I walk into my office, my boss asks me “what the hell did you do?”. Following that, he tells me that last night he was on the phone with the CEO for 3 hours fighting for my job.
I start to feel horrible for my reaction and the consequences.
In retrospect, the CEO had all the right to come up with new projects for the company. After all, he is the CEO, and if he is not strategic then who is? The whole point here is that I believed my thinking about what the CEO was saying. I felt underappreciated, undervalued and not heard. I was listening to him from a “who the hell does he think he is?” filter and that caused my behavior afterward.
Had I been able to see that my thinking is just my thinking and not the truth, then I would have had the clarity of mind to put it aside and react from a more creative mindset instead of a reactive mindset.
I could have said “Michelle, these are all great projects and I’m sure they add value to the companies portfolio. Let’s see how they fit into the already busy schedule and make them work. Would you like to talk about that now or later?” That would have been very creative. It would have moved things forward.
However, back then I did not use my wonderful brain to create options that move things forward. I innocently used it to react to the pitiful cry of the bruised ego whenever somebody stepped on it.