One of the first life lessons of my career also made the biggest impression. Maybe you recall one of those types of stories in your life.
I had taken a job as an entry-level business development officer for a small start-up bank in West Los Angeles. My job responsibilities consisted of qualifying, securing and transferring profitable clients in the bank’s target market, perhaps the most important part of the business for a start-up. Thrown into the fire without any bank training, I learned the hard way—by making cold calls on prospective clients. Nonetheless, I had to show my boss, the president, that they had hired the right person to bring in lucrative businesses. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to assess a “profitable piece of business.”
Less than a month into my new job, I was referred to a prospective “big” client. His office was located in an upscale section of the city on the thirty-fifth floor. Dressed in a polished business suit and carrying a leather briefcase, I introduced myself and handed my business card to the man in the stiff, starched white shirt. I was in awe of the floor-to- ceiling glass windows and the huge, spacious office space for one person. He took my card and said, “Well, normally I don’t meet with anyone below vice president.” He then proceeded to tell me about the “wonderful” and “profitable” piece of business he might consider transferring to our new bank.
The tone of the meeting made me nervous, and I began to wonder if Mr. Big Shot really fit the client profile that the bank was looking for. The longer he pontificated, the more questions he raised in my mind. When he finally finished his sermon of self-importance, he looked sternly at me and said, “So, what do you think about this possibility?” I had taken copious notes in anticipation that I would go back to the bank, share the information with my boss and be guided by his experience; but Mr. Big Shot said that I needed to make the decision, right now!
In that moment, unsure if my mind was analyzing the scenario correctly, I decided to ignore the fears of losing an important client and draw upon my personal courage. I said, “I don’t think this opportunity will be a good fit for us.” I immediately got up from my chair, picked up my briefcase and said, “Thank you for your time.”
He was so angry with me that, as I walked toward the office door, he literally got in my face saying, “This can be a small town. I’ll remember you and make you regret this!” He did this all the way to the hallway that housed the elevators.
Wow! Now what would I do?
I had no idea if I had screwed up or done the right thing! As I approached my car I could feel myself shaking as I began to wonder: “Will I be fired? Will I be blacklisted?” I called the bank president and when Baird picked up the phone I said, “You’re either going to be pleased with my decision in this prospect meeting, or you’re going to fire me today!” He said, “Hold on, I’m in a meeting with [Chairman of the Board] Joel and [Vice President] Sue, and I’m going to put you on speakerphone. What happened?”
Oh my! I had to rely upon my courage once again. Barely able to breathe, I told the story. All three of them immediately cracked up laughing! They recognized that Mr. Big Shot was little more than a self-important bully and not at all the type of client with whom they wanted to associate. The reaction from my boss left me feeling thankful that I stuck to my courageous will and took the appropriate risk to assert myself throughout this challenging moment.
Join me next time to learn the ingredient to my life’s lesson.
Sandra Ford Walston is known as The Courage Expert and innovator of StuckThinking™. She is an organizational effectiveness consultant, speaker, internationally published author of bestseller COURAGE, trainer and courage coach. She is certified in the Enneagram and MBTI®. Please visit www.sandrawalston.com.
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