A Memorable Career Moment

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Karen Mangia for Medium.com as part of the series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” This is the first of four excerpts from the interview.

THE QUESTION

What is one of your most memorable career moments, and what made it memorable?

MY ANSWER

An online platform for my company had recently been released, and it crashed and burned like the Hindenburg.

Immediately after, I was at a company conference and getting ready to face some of my key leaders. I stood nervously in front of the room and said:

“I want to apologize for what was released a few months ago. It was not what I promised it would be, and I take full responsibility for that. What I’d like for all of you to do is tell me everything you don’t like about the platform. Everything. Don’t leave anything out. I want to hear it all.”

This was my “Listen Till They Drop” strategy. Let them vent continuously for several hours. Do not interrupt them and, no matter what, do not argue with them about any suggestions or complaints they share. They needed to unleash their anger, and I needed to stay quiet and listen — not exactly my natural strength.

After three hours and more than 500 issues, a long silence finally fell over the room. The crowd was exhausted. They had nothing else to share. My “Listen Till They Drop” strategy had allowed them to release their pent-up anger. Maybe now everyone could focus on a solution.

I looked at them and shared my sincerest belief about this project: “Everything’s Going to Be OK. EGBOK. We’ll get through this. We will get through this because all of us are better than one of us. If we all work together to address these issues, we will create, together, a platform that will be a game changer for the company. Now, who wants to volunteer for the project board?”

I watched with immense relief as people began volunteering. By the end of the meeting, they had created a list of issues to investigate and put a plan in place. More importantly, there was a general sense of relief and accomplishment in the room. There was a sincere belief that the group could find a solution to the many problems the organization faced with this new venture. The tidal wave of anger had transitioned to the stillness of confidence. This was a productive meeting.

What could have been the worst day of my career might just prove to be the best one. The plan was in place. Soon the real work of co-creation would begin. I realized that the process would be messy, difficult, and frustrating — but I also knew it could work.

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