Today I held the project celebration lunch and it was so inspirational. The team was proud, yet humble. They sat quietly when I entered and looked at me with great expectation. I am a technology leader, and smack dab in the middle of the introvert / extrovert scale. So, giving speeches is not my cup of tea.
I still remember the first time I had to do a speech at work. I didn’t sleep for two nights before the event, stood at a podium on a stage with a pen in my hand to have something to fiddle with, and felt my knees tremble for the first 5 minutes while words were coming out of my mouth. I look back and know that I did “okay”, but it was not enjoyable, natural, or my best.
As most people in this position realize, you don’t usually look as nervous to others as you feel but it’s hard to give it everything you have when you are so scared it is hard to see the people in the audience. This experience was about 8 years ago and I have had to do many speeches / recognition events at work since that time.
Fast forward to today. I set it up so the client relations executive would attend and do the speaking so I was ready to introduce him, stand back, and bask in the glow of being the organizer but not the centre of attention.
5 minutes before the lunch, I got a message the client relations executive would be late. I thought I could still join the team, have everyone start eating, and wait for him to arrive. As I walked toward the door, one person took me aside and asked if I would go ahead and do the remarks as everyone was sitting expectantly and they needed me to break the tension.
I knew what I had to do….I walked in, started speaking from the heart and told them what a great job they had done. I talked about how I had met the corporate executive a few days earlier who had sponsored the project and how pleased she was with the results, how they had worked through a lot of challenges, how it took teamwork and dedication, how they needed to understand the processes in place (documentation, approvals, forms) were important even though I know they felt frustrated and hand-cuffed, and most importantly how the results they achieved met the business need.
They went from quiet, to smiling, to relaxed. When I was done, I told them I found it hard to speak in public and even doing a speech to a project team like this was a challenge for me but I needed to face my challenges at work just like each of them. Then I sat and ate with them, asked provocative questions to get them to talk and brainstorm how we could make the next project better and also just to get them to interact. In these days when technology professionals spend days and weeks sitting at a computer and communicating via email, text, and conference calls, it is important for leaders like me to make sure they remember that every person they work with is …well, a person.
The conversation was lively and valuable from a business view, but more importantly from a human perspective. The last think I told them as they enjoyed their dessert was that I knew the customer team had been tough on them, and at times acted inappropriately. I let them know that for every time they received a snide remark, a hostile email, or an unprofessional phone call, I had worked with the client relations executive to deflect another. I said we can’t stop all the inappropriate actions of our clients, but we can certainly call it out and reduce it so they know our team is important to us.
After the speech, and after the lunch, it was really this remark that made their day. They were surprised that as an executive who is not often treated that way by the clients I would a) know it was happening to them, b) care that it was happening to them, and c) doing something to change it.
All in all, a good day today.
Note: for anyone who does not work with technology professionals, the most important thing I ever learned was to feed them. They love to eat and will love you for it!