Leading While Naked: Part 5—Can You Smell Courage?

In his blog series Leading While Naked, Paul Shultz, Slalom Consulting’s Dallas General Manager, reflects on leadership and the lessons found in Patrick Lencioni’s business fable Getting Naked and Charlene Li’s work Open Leadership. As Paul says: “Leading and managing a professional service firm in today’s connected times, with heartfelt attention to the absolute fact that people matter, proves to be a remarkable journey.”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Slalom Consulting Dallas General Manager Paul Shultz

Paul Shultz, General Manager of Slalom Consulting’s Dallas office, has more than 30 years experience leading business and technology transformations.

Can you smell courage?

Some would say it embarrassed the [fill in your expletive of choice] out of them and they would never do it again. Others recall the how painful and humbling an experience it was…and is. For me though, the smell of spring rain in the pines brings me back to that meeting–and I always pause with that smell and recollect how miserable, unimportant, and secondary I felt. And to let those emotions be ok with me and to act in a manner that generates them, well that is the smell of courage I believe. So, now that you are feeling dismal, read on.

You’ve seen this before and you know what it ‘looks’ like. But do you know what it feels like? Easily practiced in theory yet dramatically different in real life. Patrick Lencioni describes it in his book Getting Naked. “Take a bullet for the client.” Lencioni tells us, “It is about finding those moments when we can humble ourselves and sacrificially take some of the burden off of a client in a difficult situation…” I love to hear humble and sacrifice in the context of doing business. But that is exactly what it is. And courage to allow yourself to feel inferior. For a while anyway.

Simple example. Recall Danny Noonan the young caddy in Caddyshack? He took the blame (something like “I forgot to clean the golf club grips”) for Judge Smails throwing his golf club in anger. Selfless? Not really. Danny was calculating and acted with rational thought. Selfish? Not really. Danny’s reputation was surely impeached some. Also remember Danny’s immediate reward was 25 cents (yee ha) but he did eventually achieve his goal through Smails by getting his endorsement for law school. But in that moment, being yelled at by Smails in front of the country club crowd had to make Danny’s heart pound.

My client and I stood together in the room waiting on the call. The system was struggling, massive amounts of data might be lost, and there would likely be much bloodletting. The call would tell us “we fixed it”. Or not. And if not, then starting over was the only option. You could cut the tenseness and silence with a knife.

Earlier that day we had stood together in front of the CEO telling the story. He lit into me–all guns blazing. Almost excused the notion of joint responsibility. Even questioned my motivation. Truth was it was my client’s people who had caused this. Both my client and I knew it.

I remember looking out the CEO’s window as the rain started to hit the Georgia pines. And that unique smell of rain in the pines. The smell of courage? Maybe. For whatever reason, I chose right then to take the bullet for the client and not retort the CEO’s rantings. Just told him we would know for sure in a few hours and we would talk later.

As my client and I waited for the fateful phone call, he thanked me for not throwing him and his people under the bus in front of the CEO. I certainly could have, but really it was not the time and I was resolved to take the bullet for now. Still raining and feeling like crying. Then the phone rang. He and I just stared at each other for what seemed like a thousand heartbeats. A quick conversation with our team…and…

Well, all turned out recoverable with the system and our consulting team basically saved the day. Still acting courageously, I took that moment in private to remind him that his behavior was not acceptable to me and I expected more of him. He knew I would not do it again. He apologized and agreed. Lencioni similarly adds how we have to move forward from there–“then—and this is critical—confront them with the kind truth. Without that confrontation, taking a bullet would indeed be enablement.” That’s it. Kind truth told in private so taking a hit for the client is just that and not establishing a pattern of enablement.

I still keep in touch with my client even though that was a long time ago. Lifelong relationship.

So, how does it feel to feel inferior? Are you kidding? It feels inferior. No one said this was easy or instantly gratifying. Leading while naked demands that we face our potentially embarrassing situations with rational thinking and emotional fervor body checking each other. Waiting on us to decide and act. Slide. Step. Walk. Spin. The dance of leadership–thinking and feeling our way through situations. And being rewarded in the end with better relationships, better clients, and experiences that serve us in life’s entire journey.

I love the smell of rain in the pines.

Stay naked.

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About paulshultz
In my work life, I lead the Dallas metroplex practice for Slalom Consulting. I have consulted in a number of industries including consumer products, food & beverage, industrial and high tech manufacturing, entertainment, energy, real estate, aerospace, and financial services. I have helped clients in creating and deploying strategic plans; developing and deploying strategic information and systems plans; creating customer-focused shared service centers; and assessing, designing, and implementing new technology-powered business processes. When not working, I chase little white balls through merry fairways, savor a good red wine, and follow those Baylor Bears

6 Responses to Leading While Naked: Part 5—Can You Smell Courage?

  1. Pingback: Leading While Naked Part 5: Can You Smell Courage? « The Slalom Blog

  2. Pingback: Leading While Naked Part 3: Enter the Danger « The Slalom Blog

  3. Pingback: Leading While Naked: Part 6—Oh. THAT Conversation! « The Slalom Blog

  4. Pingback: Leading While Naked Part 4: That’s a Dumb Question « The Slalom Blog

  5. Pingback: Leading While Naked: Part 2—Happy Thanksgiving–Or How Lincoln Led from the Heart « The Slalom Blog

  6. Pingback: Leading While Naked: Part 1—“I Like the People and I Believe in the Mission” « The Slalom Blog

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