Walking the leadership talk

I was reminiscing with a former colleague about some the wildest and wackiest moments in our careers. I’d almost forgotten one…how a candidate for a senior level leadership position really blew it.

I was one of six women standing in the lobby of the high-rise office building, all waiting for the elevator. It was 12:50 PM, and I had a 1:00 PM appointment to interview a candidate for our VP, Customer Care position.

When the elevator finally arrived, we were all suddenly rudely pushed aside by a gentleman (term loosely applied!) toting a briefcase and a scowl.

“Would you fat b—-s get out of my way? I’m running late for an important meeting.”

Some of us were amused, others offended. Regardless of the reaction, we all stepped back nearly in unison and let the “gentleman” ride up alone.

Back in my office, I received a call at 1:15 PM from our receptionist, letting me know my interviewee was ready. I walked to the lobby to greet him. Imagine our mutual reactions when we see one another: I see the discourteous fellow from the lobby. He sees the host of his “important meeting” as someone he rudely categorized just a half hour ago.

Part of my brain screamed for a short interview, having already drawn the conclusion that he wasn’t a cultural fit. Another part of my brain (yes, I do have arguing voices in my head!) reminded me not to climb the ladder of inference and to give the guy a chance. I gave him the chance.

Our two-hour interview was fascinating, particularly the segment in which he curtly offered his explanation of the elevator incident. Was he surprised I would ask about it? Who knows?

In response to my inquiry, he told me I needed to take into account how long he had wanted to work for our organization. That wait, combined with bad traffic on the way in from the airport to our office, he explained, had placed him under a lot of stress. So it was his stress, coupled with his great desire to put his mark on our organization, which caused the elevator incident. Indeed.

I always asked the receptionist to tell me how applicants treated and interacted with her, believing a real insight into character-based leadership is how people treat those with power — and those without. Our receptionist described him as mean and demanding when she told him he needed to fill out an application.  His response to her? “Hand it over immediately, and I mean immediately. What kind of company makes a VP candidate use their valuable time in filling out an application.”

I’m sure you’re way ahead of me here in figuring out we didn’t hire him.

Leadership isn’t playing a role or adopting expected behaviors at “show-time.” It’s a commitment to walk the talk…all the time.





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