Jumping to Conclusions

Several years ago, I was consulting with Division X of a large company; the president of the division had a reputation of being against change. Corporate had decided to implement a new system, starting with 2 other divisions, then coming to Division X. During an initial meeting at Division X, the division president was “not feeling well” and called in by speakerphone. A while later, Corporate created a 1-day workshop for the leaders of Division X. On the day of the workshop, the CEO and COO came to Division X to kick off the meeting; the CEO spent most of the day in the meeting to underscore its importance. When I arrived at the workshop, the division VP Ops told me that the division president was staying home because he was ill. Given the president’s previous actions and attitudes, we both assumed that he was signaling his disapproval of the new system.

That evening, I talked with my business partner about the concrete-head division president – what to do and how to do it. One of my major tasks as a consultant was to help implement the new system at the division. I mentally created lots of scenarios for truly powerful coaching the next time I was able to have a 1-1 with the division president. My favorite scenario was 2 questions:

1. Do you think that the new system will indeed be implemented at Division X? (The only logical answer was “yes”, because corporate was rolling it out across all divisions. It was already working in 2 other divisions, and corporate would insist that our division be on the new system.)

2. How do you want to be perceived by your people, and by corporate: a) fully supportive, b) mildly supportive, c) neutral, d) mildly opposed, or e) adamantly opposed? You get to choose. (I would hope that the light would click on – that anything short of c) would damage his ability to lead his own people in the division as well as his career.)

So, self-righteously armed with that great scenario, I arrived at the division the next morning to hear that the president had been in briefly looking totally green around the gills, then had gone home to finish recovering from the stomach flu. Several others were also out with the flu.

I’m glad I had confined my disparaging comments about the president to my business partner, whom I could trust to forget them completely once I updated him on the situation. Anything else could have seriously poisoned my working relationship with the client.

To put a moral to this story: jumping to conclusions is like jumping off a diving board. Sometimes there will be water, and you’ll be ok. Sometimes, the water will also contain sharks. And sometimes there will be only a concrete pool bottom where the water should have been. Unfortunately, we don’t know what’s down below when we jump.

I welcome your feedback.

Gary Langenwalter

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