A Blunder by Another, A Dog by Any Name

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GoldenRetrieverThe interview was going well.  A very well spoken, poised and experienced woman was vying for a senior executive job at one of the big consulting firms.  I was the interviewer and the setting was breakfast at a sophisticated New York hotel.

Fifteen minutes into the interview she happily blurted out, “I have to tell you something.”

With anticipation, I cheerily replied,  “What?”

She went on, “You remind me of a Golden Retriever.”

Silence from my end.

She continued, “I love those dogs and you are just like one.  You have the same personality, you even have the same coloring.”

It was hard to know how to respond.  I considered barking.  Woof.

Later, I thought about her comment and wondered if she made a habit of comparing professional colleagues to dogs.  What her commentreally spurred was the thought that maybe there is a need to codify the “unwritten code” of business behavior.  As in, no matter how comfortable you feel, don’t tell the guy who is interviewing you that he looks like a dog.

(To set the record straight, I love dogs.  I aspire to be as good a man as my dogs think I am.  And, I want to be surrounded by colleagues whose judgment I can trust.)

There are basic rules about success in the workplace.  Since the dog episode, I have continued to wonder, “Is it me? Or have people forgotten there are basic rules and we all need to use our judgment about what works each and every day?”  Turns out, people do want to know about these guidelines that are never found in an employee manual.  Common sense in complicated organizations needs an evangelist.  So I wrote down “bullets” of what I thought people should know to be successful in business.  Lots of them.  The bullets turned into a series of best selling books starting with Never Confuse A Memo with Reality and followed by five more, with the most recent being Sins and CEOs.

On that fateful day my friendly interviewee had unwittingly launched my parallel career as an author of books of business bullets.  Although there is no shortage of business books, most don’t address themes like heavy breathing on conference calls and the false sense of activity.  The books “double click” on the truth button on what it takes to be successful – good judgment.

I have made more than my own share of career blunders, probably more than most;  but the blunder that changed my career was made by an overly zealous dog lover.

In case you are wondering, as much as I like Golden Retrievers, she didn’t get the job.

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