Monday, June 18, 2012

The Leadership Test

I had two interesting encounters with receptionists this morning. Arriving early for my meeting with a prospective client in a café nestled in a small office suite, I had time to creatively quest a copy machine. I wanted to copy a 7-page magazine article, and intended to pay for the privilege. The first office I entered didn't even own a copy machine. At the second, as I stated my request, the receptionist looked at me coolly for a moment, then said, "Let me go ask HR." I thought, "Ask Human Resources if someone can copy a few pages?" But I held my tongue. She came back and suggested I try the company upstairs.

This time, I chose to frame my request a little differently. I smiled as I approached the friendly-looking receptionist and asked if I might make a copy of an article I wrote in order to send it to my parents, as the subject matter concerns them (it's about aging in place). She glanced at the magazine and said with a tinge of wonder, "You wrote that?" [Apparently being a writer still carries a certain cachet in some circles!] I said, "Yes, and I'm happy to pay for the copies. It's just 6 or 7 pages." She said, "Oh, I wouldn't even know what to charge you." When I said most copy places charge 10 cents, she waved my offer away, then had a thought: "We probably have that magazine right here." I looked on the rack by the entrance, and sure enough, there it was. I said, "So, I could just clip out my article?" She answered, "No, go ahead and take the magazine." What if someone else wants to read it? I inquired. She smiled and shrugged, "Take it."

I don't know if either woman has managerial or entrepreneurial aspirations, but my money's on the second one, who took the decision-making reins, thought creatively, and arrived at a solution that was beyond satisfactory. To me, this was a microcosmic lesson in what leadership looks like. What do you think?


Coda: I realized the next day that this creative response came from the company on the third floor — I had to go right to the top, where she made an executive decision! I laughed out loud as I made the final connection; Spirit has always amused me with its inimitable sense of humor.

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