As much learning as there is to be gained at the Wharton Leadership Conferences (see my blog post of June 17th below), not all of it is one way — dispensed from the podium outward.
A few conferences ago, I was sitting nearby a fellow participant. We may have exchanged a few pleasantries at some point — program leader Mike Useem favors having all the attendees get up from their seats and do a 360 turn of hellos right at the beginning of the day. But any exchange was inconsequential. Until, that is, late in the afternoon session. Here is what transpired.
Sitting in the same row of seats, we listened to a CEO of a venture-backed company give a presentation on his leadership of the firm. Conditions in his industry were tough at that time — tough as in fairly dire. His leadership mostly had to do with keeping the firm afloat.
In the CEO's telling, there came a point when there was no way to avoid it — he was going to have to suck it up and ask his venture backers for more funding. He didn't want to do it. He really did not want to do it. He sweated and fretted about it for days on end. If he could have found any way out of having to make that request, he would have jumped at it with alacrity. Alas, a cash call was the only option for salvation. With fear and trembling, he reached out to the moneymen.
And guess what? They said okay. They didn't say,"No problem," but they didn't carve a pound of flesh off the CEO's hide. He got his needed extra funding, and all was well with the world and, eventually, the business. He lived to tell the tale at Wharton.
Here is where the real learning from that CEO's story came for me. This fellow near me looked over at me and said, "It just goes to show — you have to give someone the opportunity to say 'Yes.' "
What a lesson in leadership. For anyone. At any level of the organization. And in life itself.
Give someone the opportunity to say "Yes."
For the record, I came to learn that this wise commentator was Alan Berson, an executive and leadership coach with his firm Pulse Point Coaching.