I’ve was thinking last week about first impressions. Sometimes my first impression is right, sometimes it’s wrong. For long-term relationships it probably doesn’t much matter other than possibly to laugh at later if your first impression wasn’t so positive. Doug and I will be laughing over this one for years, I am sure.
So a good first impression, like a really good one, is almost analogous to infatuation. Love at first sight. It probably is a form of infatuation. Infatuation worries me. Irrationality worries me. Emotion worries me.
But it’s like Laurie from 4Di said at Boostrap Camp – attraction is part of leverage. I don’t specifically mean physical attraction, I mean just to like the person. In any sort of relationship, it helps to like the person or people you are dealing with. But just because you don’t necessarily have a great first impression doesn’t (or shouldn’t) count for that much. Although we’re human, right, it does.
When I was in Babson they gave us some personality test or other and then stuck us in a room with others of our personality type. Best group ever. Point made. We get along well with people who think like us and react like us. This is why diversity is so important, and the wisdom of crowds. Please, read the book before passing judgement on the wisdom or folly of crowds. The data nerd in me doesn’t like knee-jerk reactions. Unless they are my knee-jerk reactions and then if you call me on it and ask me where’s my data I’ll laugh and own up to my folly.
I keep saying how much I like this industry and it’s because it’s filled with really smart and knowledgeable people. It’s not fluffy, like some other industries can tend to be. I met some people last week who have forgotten more than I know about ISPs and Wi-FI, and this stuff is complicated, and what you don’t know can hurt you. Also, who you don’t know can hurt you. I like to think I learn fast, and I can put two and two together. But at the end of the day, if nothing else, this job has allowed me to meet some really interesting people.
I was having a bit of a laugh to myself about my own double standards when a vendor of mine was late to a meeting and this caused me to miss my training for the day. Now because I happen to like these guys a lot, I didn’t mind, and to be honest that was my fifth meeting of the day, I had missed lunch, I still had a dinner meeting and I was really strung out from the excitement of the day so I didn’t really feel like training.
But here’s the thing, and I actually even told them this: if they had been one of their competitors, who I have not had such a good working relationship with, I would have been VERY angry. Quite the double standard. Same exact situation, and the way that you react to it is, of course, 100% in your control, but also of course is largely due to how you feel about the people. But then we got to talking about clubbing baby seals, as you do, so it was all good.
I was chatting to Lance about the difference between people you want to work with and people you want to go out for drinks with. It’s like that stupid thing they always ask about Presidential candidates: who would you rather have a beer with? Interesting question but irrelevant. In an ideal world, I will have competent co-workers who I like, respect, and want to hang out with. In the real world, it can stop before number 3, and sometimes that is even better especially when you’re a leader.
The sorts of people who impressed me last week either were clearly highly knowledgeable or saw things in a multi-faceted light or demonstrated something else. There is that likeability factor which is so critical in your relationships with customers, vendors, partners (and, of course, staff, shareholders & board). But really, when you start off a meeting with an etymology lesson that’s pretty damn cool, at least to me.
On the flip side, there are some people and companies that are less than ethical, and I’ve already seen some of that. Honestly, I don’t care. I’ll do business as I do business, and my staff kick some serious ass. If we do things as we’re capable of, we’ll do well. Wi-Fi the world, baby. Hmm, our company does need a mission statement.
This is one thing my parents taught me well: even if someone does something unethical to hurt you, you do your best to turn the other cheek and follow through on promises made to them. It is possibly the case that I respect a promise or an ethical commitment more so than a legal one, not that I don’t obey both. As I’ve said though, attack me or mine when we have no obligation ethical or otherwise, then watch out.
Also don’t annoy me. I don’t generally get angry or annoyed. I get amused. And when I’m amused, I tend to play, like a cat with a mouse. I may not be the smartest person around. But I’m pretty smart, and I’m pretty creative, and I’m pretty charismatic. So that combination makes me dangerous. Even when I’m playing, I’m not playing around. But back to the relationships thing – it’s nothing you didn’t bring on yourself. I have a very long fuse, and I can only think of maybe five people my entire career that I actively dislike. Sadly, two of them have been people I’ve met in the last six months.
And hey, on the flip side, I definitely have some people who don’t like me very well. I am sure there will be more. I’m growing out of the wanting everyone to like me phase. What has to be done has to be done, and if you have good intentions, good ethics, and do your best, you know what, you don’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
It’s a cliché that what goes around comes around but it’s also totally true. I do favours for people with no expectation of any return: just because I like and believe in the person. People do the same for me. We have long memories for who has done well by us and who has not: there is sociological research to back this up (yet another subject that came up in one of my meetings this week. I love it when you talk behavioural economics to me).
Trust, be fair, and protect. That’s a good code of conduct.
There was this other strange thing that happened to me this week. I caught myself on not one but two occasions referring to South Africans as ‘we.’ This whole ‘us vs them’ thing is very strong. As an expat you never quite fit in or know where you belong. I’m an American who resides in South Africa. So what the hell am I?
Also, on Tuesday, I was listening to the radio as one does, and the news comes on in Afrikaans and it’s talking about the Oscar Pistorius thing, so I changed the channel to see if there was some music on. There was a news broadcast in English. So without missing a beat, I changed back to the Afrikaans station. Not that I could understand 100% of it, and I sure as hell can’t speak in Afrikaans. But I can understand most of it, and it was more interesting than whatever the English station was blathering on about.
It’s a weird life I live. All those big questions that are fun to talk about: identity, morality, the purpose of life. We all go through good times and bad times. It’s fun to talk about fate, or luck, or our purpose in life but at the end of the day it’s sort of like anything. Most things in life we can’t control, we can only control our reactions to them. I may not like the workout of the day but I’m going to do it anyway.
I’ve said before that I have tended to try to stay away from leadership. My brother hates the spotlight, like really hates it. I don’t mind it at all, but at the end of the day responsibility and visibility worries me. I would hate to fail with everyone looking at me. Failing hurts more than succeeding feels good, but they both bring you back for more.
The other thing is that if you’re not actually in charge, the buck stops somewhere else. You can’t very well snipe at the foolish boss if you are the boss. But turn that on its head: if you had a chance to make things work as you thought they could, isn’t that positive side a whole lot better than losing the ability to whine and complain?
There are two sides to every coin. So I don’t set myself up to fail.
But does this mean I play it too safe?