Walking the Talk

I just got my lunch handed to me by a business prospect and will be eating “humble pie” for months to come. It was a humiliating lesson, exacted upon a careless and overly-casual “professional” by an astute and thoughtful company leader. In recounting the experience I hope that, through my shortcoming and poor behavior, you may better consider the words you use and the actions you take to bolster and protect your professional brand. File this under: “Do as I say – not as I do.”

I arrived this afternoon for my third face-to-face meeting with a strong prospect for the Vistage CEO roundtable group that I lead in Denver. I’ll call him “Mike.” Assuming this was the final step of the evaluation process with an impressive company leader, I believed that Mike and I both had found a strong fit and would likely be progressing with a formal membership application.

After moving beyond the greetings and pleasantries, we sat in his office as Mike closed the door. As he sat by his desk, he began by explaining that he had been struggling with an internal dynamic at his company whereby his customer service staff and administration staff were badmouthing each other. Worst yet, they were doing it with customers of the company. He explained that when a customer called with a complaint about their bill or the service that had been provided, Admin would say that the Customer Service department had clearly dropped the ball, or Customer Service would throw Admin under the bus by blaming them for the problem. He was struggling with how best to confront the situation.

Mike continued: “Then I got this voice mail message last Friday,” and he turned to the phone on his desk, hit the button marked “Speakerphone” and began to dial. To my surprise, the voice on the recording was my own.

“Hi Mike,” I said. “This is David Avrin and yes, you are correct, the meeting place listed in the e-mail was wrong. Some ‘Bone-Head’ from the corporate office sent out the wrong location.” Then, without ever taking his gaze off of me, Mike pressed a button on the phone rewinding it slightly. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…” Click. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…” Click. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…” Click. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…”

I sat speechless as Mike leaned back in his chair and said: “So here’s my dilemma. I’m looking for an executive coach to help me become a better leader and deal with issues such as how to confront poor internal behavior, and this message is what I received from my leading candidate. What do I do with this?”

As he spoke, all I could do was nod knowingly, acknowledging that everything he was saying was true and the concern he expressed was richly-deserved. I had screwed-up – big time. Not just because my poorly-considered, off-hand comment had violated my covenant with a trusted and valued corporate partner, but because I had damaged my credibility with someone I respected. It was no one’s fault but my own.

In the moment, I knew the worst thing I could do was to make an excuse, or try to talk around the massive “elephant” clearly sitting in the middle of the room. Instead, I acknowledged what we both knew to be true. I screwed up. I offered my apology and told him that he was right to call me out on my poor behavior and that I knew it had damaged my credibility. I explained that in my effort to be overly casual in my correspondence and maybe even a little bit “cool,” I used a very poor choice of words. More likely, I offered, in casually dismissing or even denigrating someone else for what was just an honest mistake, I was basically implying that I wouldn’t be guilty of such an infraction. Of course we all make mistakes, and ascribing blame, regardless of the legitimacy, was clearly wrong.

As I tried to remember my feelings at the moment when I made the call following the errant e-mail blast, I realized that my response was a poorly-considered, knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on “jerk”) to a communication that I feared would damage his perception our organization. Instead, it was my actions that diminished the credibility of the organization. So once again, I apologized.

We went on to have a solid and meaningful discussion about the value of our leadership roundtable and his prospective involvement, but the reality of what had transpired hung over the conversation. What will happen from here on is unclear, but what is clear is that my professional reputation was tarnished – by my behavior. It is a bell that can’t be un-rung.

One of my favorite expressions states that: “Experience comes from bad decisions – and good decisions come from experience.” This is a bad decision I will not repeat.

Do you learn from your professional mistakes? Do you sometimes look back at your early work experiences and cringe at some of the things you did and said. I would submit that every time an inappropriate thought crosses your mind, but fails to cross your lips, then that’s evidence of lessons well-learned. And we are still learning – myself included. Sometimes even “The Coach” needs a coach.

Your personal and professional brand is not just your logo or your tag line. It is not the colors of your lobby or the greeting offered to your customers. Your brand is not the jingle on your commercials or the cleanliness of your bathroom. It is everything. It’s everything that you do, and everything you don’t do well in your business. Your brand is what others think about you when you leave the room, or when they leave your business.

Today, I stunk up the place. Tomorrow I will do better. Mea culpa.


David Avrin is known internationally as the Visibility Coach. A noted speaker, author, branding consultant and executive coach, David shows professionals and organizations how to stand apart and raise their profile in a competitive marketplace. Visit him online at www.visibilitycoach.com.

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Published in: on August 4, 2009 at 12:07 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. David, This is a favorite post of mine. I have a way to use this in a post on my WatchdogNation.com blog relating to customer service. When I get it up, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, though, kudos for a well-told descriptive story that made me feel like I was a fly on the wall.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. The response to my “mea culpa” has been profound. Oh, the power of humility. Re-posting this article on your WatchdogNation blog would be very appreciated. I too believe it is a valuable lesson for others. As they say: “Experience comes from bad decisions – and good decisions come from experience.”

  3. Wonderful website. Plenty of useful info here. I’m sending it to some pals ans also
    sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks for your effort!

  4. Thank you for posting this awesome article. I’m a long time reader but I’ve never been compelled to leave a comment.
    I subscribed to your blog and shared this on my
    Facebook. Thanks again for a great article!


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