A Dinner And Leadership Challenge – How Would You Do?

The dinner story I want to share with you this eve reminded me of an experience I’ve had as I’ve done business around the world…

Whether or not you’ve had the same experience, I hope my story will still resonate and grab you by the throat—if only because it really does offer a gift that’ll help you bring your ideas to life…

So, folks, this is the real deal… And knowing this, you’ve now gotta pay serious attention!

Being present

Once upon a time…

Not that long ago, five buddies and I had gathered for dinner at a chic Beverly Hills Chinese restaurant. Of course, the prices were exorbitant, but the ambience was nice. No surprise here—this was Beverly Hills…

Although this has nothing to do with my story, whenever I think of this particular “Chinese” restaurant, I smile. I doubt there’s a single Chinese person living outside Beverly Hills who would recognize my favorite dish on the menu: lichee nut curried seafood with scallops, shrimps and calamari. Perhaps we might have expected it in an Indian, Korean or Japanese restaurant, but in a Chinese restaurant? C’mon!

As we went through the ritual of exploring a menu that hadn’t changed in years, we also heard and felt the buzzing and vibrations from our smart phones screaming for attention. I now need to interrupt myself…

Dinner

The smart phone phenomenon…

This smart phone phenomenon isn’t a generational thing. Although the ages of those around the table ranged between 35 and 65, we all had at least one phone—and some had two. And we all seem to respond to their demand for attention with the same unquestioning obedience.

For me at least, smart phones are an equal-opportunity source of irritation. Not that this has ever stopped me clinging to mine. It hasn’t.

What this source of irritation has done, though, is to remind me of Einstein’s warning, which has always disturbed me a tad…

generation-of-idiots-einstein-quote

Was Einstein right? Have our smart phones really created a generation of socially-retarded idiots? I hope not, but the jury is still out on their progress. Evidence is growing that they might indeed be close to creating that new generation. Whatever their progress, though, is there now any serious doubt that they are indeed changing the delicate balance of our lives?

Consider this:

If a photo can tell a thousand words, ask yourself who in this following photo was more “present” for what the group was experiencing—and who might have enjoyed the experience more than the others… Could it be the ones who were experiencing an event through their smart phones—or could it be the circled person who was present just savoring the moment? You decide…

old woman

And what about the Pope’s recent visit to America? Believe it or not, rather than look him in the eye and try to engage him, there were scores of people who would actually turn their backs on him to take a selfie with him.

pope

Am I only sane person left on this planet who believes that this is just nuts??? Am I alone in believing that the opportunity to look him in the eye and try to “connect” with him even for a moment was something well worth embracing and savoring?

Anyway, this led me on the path to reminding me of the invaluable experience to which I’ve already alluded at the beginning of this piece—and the dinner story that reminded me of it…

That experience…

Have you ever been to meeting in which your host would begin the meeting by calling in his or her secretary with this request?

“No calls, please. We don’t want to be interrupted – unless, of course, it is an ABSOLUTE emergency. Thank you.”

And with that the doors would close and the meeting would begin…

Over the years, I came to learn that this wasn’t an isolated incident. Indeed, it was a worldwide phenomenon. No matter what country you were in or what the nationality of those at the meeting, the instruction was almost ALWAYS given. And there were always the same two good reasons for this—

The first reason was practical. It recognized the need for and importance of focus and presence. This is what we now all know—

Constant interruption or distraction can make it quite difficult to maintain the focus and level of “presence” you will need in any important meeting.

Think for a moment about the level of multi-tasking you will need in these meetings. Simultaneously, you will have to listen, watch and think—and perhaps even read and take notes… And this, incidentally, is why, in a business context, you would rarely go into an important meeting alone. Your colleagues might not miss what you might miss.

Even the thinking part of the multi-tasking is not easy. You not only have to think of what has just happened at the meeting, namely, what you might just have heard and seen. It is also about thinking about why the other person reacted as he or she did—or what might happen if you now respond in a particular way to what you’ve just heard and seen. This is never easy. It always needs focus and presence…

So, while all of this multi-tasking is going on, the last thing you will want is to have your concentration interrupted or diverted. Again, it’s all about focus—and being present…

be here

The second reason for the instruction not to be interrupted is simply one of courtesy and respect.

By refusing to allow anything or anyone to interrupt your meeting, you are making a profound statement about yourself—and those with whom you are meeting. You are stating that the meeting is important to you—as are the people with whom you are meeting.

On the other hand, if you agree to be interrupted, you are also making a statement about yourself—and them. Here you are stating that, for you, neither the meeting nor the participants are important. This is obviously both discourteous and disrespectful.

Finally, there is another more pragmatic reason not to disrespect those with whom you are meeting: Whatever ultimately happens in that meeting, one day you might want something from them. And why would you EVER want to burn bridges by disrespecting them?

So, how does any of this square with the smart phone phenomenon? Well, it doesn’t. An activated smart phone is the very living symbol of everything that focus and presence isn’t. Put differently, it is impossible to focus and be present if you read and respond to every text and email wherever you are.

respect-should-be-the-first-thing-you-give-quote-1

Back to the dinner—and an epiphany…

The six of us knew each other well. We’d all crossed paths as professionals, executives or as tennis bums. The only other information you need about our dinner ritual is that, when it came to paying the bill, we would always go “dutch.” We’d always just divide the bill and the tip by 6 and that would be that. If someone ordered wildly expensive drinks and expected us to subsidize those drinks, we’d good-naturedly decline and we’d then abuse the offender as a serial drunk—or worse.

As those around me were still squinting at their screaming phones, I had an epiphany:

I decided I wasn’t going to pay for my dinner that evening. No way… Someone around that table would be paying for my dinner, but it wouldn’t be me…

And what, you might ask, had led me there?

Obviously, none of these folks who were squinting at their phones were “present” for our dinner. As far as I was concerned, we might just as well not have been there together. We might just as well have been sitting alone at the bar. So, I wondered, why was I even there?

This was my thinking:

If they quite reasonably wanted me there because they enjoyed my undeniably charming and charismatic personality or because of my electric sense of humor—or both, surely they should pay for that privilege? And why not???

The only question was how I might persuade one of them to pay for my dinner…

My challenge…

I knew this would be a breeze. I would appeal to their sense of superiority and invincibility—and to their natural competitiveness. But, first, I would have to get their attention—

“I’ve gotta suggestion, guys. I think we should do something different tonight. Are you up for a playful challenge?”

They all smiled and waited for me to continue…

“Here’s the deal,” I continued. “I don’t wanna pay for my dinner tonight.”

I waited for some response and, when none came, I continued…

“Instead, I want one of you to pay for my dinner… If I lose my challenge, I’ll pay for ALL your dinners. But, if one of you lose, you’ve either gotta pay for everyone’s dinner or just for mine. You can choose. What’ya say?”

They asked what the challenge was…

“F’get it!” I said. “First, you’ve gotta agree to the deal and then I’ll tell you what it is. All you need to know right now is we all play by the same rules. So, are you up for it – or d’ya just wanna spend the whole dinner squinting into your phones???”

Eventually, and with some good humor, they all agreed. They were in. And the loser, they agreed, would pay for everyone’s dinner…

“Cool!” I responded. “We’ll start by putting our phones in the middle of the table face-down.”

Mine was already on the table face-down. They each looked a little uncertain, but they each all followed my inspirational example… I continued:

“Here’s the scoop… The first one to pick up and look at your phone during dinner loses and has to pay for everyone’s dinner. And the challenge only ends when the restaurant closes for the evening. Anyone who leaves early, pays!”

While everyone nodded and agreed, their discomfort and uncertainty was as perceptible as my joy and glee…

So what happened?

They began by not taking their eyes off their phones. They were looking for any perceptible sign of movement or life. They were clearly uncomfortable and quite uneasy. This soon grew into a anxiety as some phones started to vibrate. But then they gradually relaxed—and they all became more and more “present” in the evening…

Much to their own professed astonishment, they began to chatter about how cool this was—and what a relief it was to ignore their phones. For the first time that I could remember, we all experienced something around that table that was unusual and precious. We really began to enjoy one another in a way that was long lost…

Then the talk turned to how much more productive they could each be if they could turn off their phones, for example, as they completed projects with deadlines.

Then they talked about how cool it would be if, going into projects, they could demand that there be no interruptions and if they could make people turn off their phones. They talked about how truly irritating and annoying it was to be out with someone on a date, for example, and for their date then to be answering texts and emails throughout. Someone commented that the date couldn’t have been that into them.

I couldn’t resist:

“Why would it be any less irritating and annoying for any of us having dinner with you when you think its more important to be texting and emailing rather than being present with us?”

At least they had the good nature to smile…

“And, if spending the evening having dinner and being present with me,” I continued, “is less important than answering your texts and emails, why would I want to subject myself to playing second fiddle here? Isn’t this REALLY disrespectful? You wouldn’t do that with someone you thought was really important would you?”

This offered me the segue I needed to tell them about my experiences going into those important meetings around the world. I told them about that instruction—and the reasons for the instruction…

“No calls, please. We don’t want to be interrupted – unless it is an ABSOLUTE emergency. Thank you.”

I pointed out how none of them would last 10 minutes in any of these meetings if they continued to read and answer every text and email they’d received. I suggested they were addicted to their phones. But, unlike other addictions, I suggested, and as our dinner challenged had proved, turning off a smart phone was actually an addiction that was a breeze to abandon…

As everyone exchanged knowing looks around the table, and as everyone agreed that there was absolutely no hardship in abandoning their phones for a few hours over dinner—it was actually really nice not to have to deal with those phone for a while…

The conclusion?

So, this was the consensus around the table that evening—

If you want to get something done or if you want to bring your ideas to life—or if you want to show respect to those you are with, make sure that everyone is both present and focussed on the task at hand. And make sure you and they turn off those smart phones…

The challenge, of course, was whether or not, a leaders, we could demand that those who work with us be more present and focused? That would take some courage. Were we up to it?

Oh, and I suppose you want to know who paid for my dinner that evening? Well, I did—as did everyone else! While nobody lost, everybody won!

Sorry, gotta go. Gotta answer a text…

zombies