The President’s Suit Coat
Many moons ago I sat in a freezing cold executive conference room waiting for a meeting with the President of a multi-billion dollar company. At the time, the President of the organization was my boss’s boss and we were meeting with the Executive team to review the plan for the Talent Management and Leadership Development Program that was being built. Part way through the meeting, my body language clearly showed that I was freezing cold and the President called me out. He asked if I was cold, got up from his seat at the head of the table, adjusted the thermostat, took off his suit coat, and draped it over my shoulders, saying, “You should have said something earlier! We can’t have you in here freezing your tail off! Get warm!”
And that’s how I came to be wearing the President’s suit coat.
(If you thought this post was a rant about President Trump’s attire, alas, it is not, but please keep reading.)
Some years later, I was setting up a leadership team meeting in another multi-billion dollar organization and found myself in another executive board room meeting. I was hosting an outside visitor to present and we were using the President’s boardroom in his absence. Upon entering the room, it was not just cold – it could have passed as a meat-locker. It was FREEZING! Both myself and my guest shivered as we walked in and immediately went to find the thermostat. At about that same time, the President’s Executive Assistant came in to see if we needed anything.
“YES! To change the temperature in here! It’s so cold we can’t think!”
With a sheepish smile, she informed us that we could turn up the thermostat as much as we wanted but it wouldn’t change the temperature at all – even though the numbers were changing. My guest and I looked at her a bit confused, and she continued. “He’s had a dummy thermostat installed. He’s the only one who can authorize a change in the temperature and it requires a call directly from him to the facilities team. He has it set to 65.5 no matter what that thermostat says.”
And more silence.
She finally left the room and my guest and I looked at each other dumbfounded and said, “My God! He had a FAKE thermostat put in??? Clearly, there’s no shortage of work for us here!”
For years, this story has been told as “a tale of two cultures.” And so I ask, would you give your team your suit coat in their moment of need, or would you have them believe they were changing the situation while really you were masterminding a plan to serve your own self-interest in the background? Would you be genuinely concerned about creating an environment of high-performance, or would you think of your own desires first? Metaphorically speaking, who’s got your coat? And who are you freezing out?
Both cultures exist but only one drives loyalty and results. Did you notice the behavior of the second President’s Executive Assistant? He’s out of town and she was quick to call his bluff and blow his cover. Loyalty doesn’t exist to inauthentic and disingenuous leaders. It’s authenticity that works. Period.