Who would you like to sit next to at dinner?

Our job is interesting. We get to meet people from all walks of life and we can compare and contrast people, teams, businesses. We get to experience the best and at times the worst of executive behaviour.

So consider two Chief Executives we have met recently.

One, sharp, quick witted. You can tell he is bright by the questions he asks. You find yourself challenged by his enquiries. Conversation is engaging. He listens, summarises, challenges and makes you think. He responds with information and observations but the discussion is clearly an exchange. You know he has achieved a great deal but you would never know this to talk to him. His reputation speaks on his behalf and he doesn’t see the need to bolster this in conversation. If we were to analyse the conversation, statistically, he speaks less. Maybe 40% of the time. He seems interested in you and what you have to say.

Now lets compare him to someone else. Apologies for the language but we hope you get what we mean by this. He engages in what can only be described as ‘corporate dick-swinging’. He sees every conversation as a chance to show off. He has stories about great projects, brave decisions, tough actions.  He drops salary and bonus payments into conversation. He mentions his car several times, even though we are not talking about cars. He is a man on a mission to impress. He interrupts any attempt by anyone else to be involved in the conversation. He is the man in charge, the centre of the universe and the funnel through which all conversation must flow. He is right, powerful, dominant, brave. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and he has been in the business long enough to know that your opinion isn’t worth a damn compared to his accumulated wealth and knowledge. If you were to analyse the conversation, it would be 90% him. In fact, the 10% you are allowed to speak is you nodding in agreement or summarising the great man’s thoughts.

The only thought we have when we encounter him is that a big cover up is going on. People who boast about their achievements and preen and show off, often have something to hide. They seem to have an overwhelming desire to impress and we wonder why. The other thought we have is to escape as fast as possible. You learn quickly that your ideas, opinions and stories are irrelevant. So you nod in all the right places and keep your thoughts to yourself. You resolve to avoid sitting near them again.

Have you met him? Do you recognise him?

Here is the challenge. Next time you are sitting next to someone at lunch, or in a meeting, think about how much time you spend showing off. How often do you boast of your achievements? How much attention do you pay to those sitting near you? There is something incredibly powerful and persuasive about humility.

 Music in the office

A big week for Lucinda Williams in the office this week, inspired by going to see her in London. Lucinda is great. She is the only artist I can think of who, half way through a song in front of thousands of people, will stop the band because’ it doesn’t feel right’. She will get them to play something else instead. So we have been playing her ‘Blessed’ album – a thing of beauty if ever there was one.