This morning I was doing some work at my desk and the phone rang. The caller was someone with whom I had not spoken in a few years. We talked for a while about a wide range of things--the upcoming elections, the federal deficit, the American League Pennant race, media fragmentation and some personal issues. Finally, he said, “I have to ask you something.”
It appears that he had an idea for his media property that he had raised in a staff meeting with his team. To a person, everyone was very enthusiastic. After listening to his pitch and following up with a few questions, I started to laugh. “You don’t like it, do you", my friend asked. “No, I don’t.” And I ticked off a number of reasons why I thought the idea was a non-starter. He then started laughing. “Don, my wife told me to call you. There are not many people around who call me on my b.s. these days.”
My friend now runs a substantial media organization. It appears that his team members are afraid to speak honestly to him. All of us need colleagues or “go to people” who really want what is best for us. It has to be someone whom we trust. Some will trash your ideas unfairly out of jealousy or they are very limited people and fail to understand many ideas. Often, however, our ideas are just plain weak. The higher we go up the corporate leader, the greater the need for a trusted friend to blow the whistle when needed.
In one of his famous letters to shareholders, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett put it this way: “If a CEO is enthused about a particularly foolish acquisition, both his internal staff and his outside advisors will come up with whatever projections are needed to justify his stance. Only in fairy tales are emperors told that they are naked.”
It also helps to have people call you out in your personal life. A long time ago, I gave my first speech at a conference. It was very well received and I barely made it to the airport to catch my plane home as many in the audience stopped me to talk. I was thrilled. When I arrived at home, my young children were all running around and eager to see what I had brought them from my trip. I told my wife of the success I had and she was pleased and supportive but also reminded me that I need to take out the trash as they were coming to get it at six the next morning. I then helped to get the younger children down when the phone rang. A person at the conference was on the line and praised my address and asked if I could speak at an upcoming meeting he had scheduled in a few months. I was overjoyed and full of myself. When I got off the phone my oldest was still up and we did our normal ritual of a couple of songs and a goodnight prayer. She was very sleepy but looked up with drooping eyelids and said, “Hey, Dad, did you take out the garbage cans?”
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org