In your career, have you ever been faced with a situation where you think you possess enough experience to handle it? You’ve taken classes and continued your education to be ready when the opportunity presents? Where you run, excitedly and headlong into it; a defining moment of your career? Only to find yourself ill-prepared in uncharted waters.
Some time ago, early in my career, I found myself in such a situation.
The opportunity was a business social event. One where you are not “on the clock” but a work-event, nonetheless.
The invitation was for a business dinner. Attending, was my boss and a C Suite level executive from a well-known organization. I was over the moon to be invited. Yes, I am going to be sitting at the table!
An important tidbit, I’ve never been to cotillion. Honestly, my friends and I were more red-solo cup people. Although I have received no professional training on etiquette, I have performed some research on Google. I am confident I can navigate a dinner table place setting. Work from the outside in. Any doubt, just watch what other people are doing, right? Easy!
A few evenings later, I found myself at a high-end restaurant which boasts a world recognized name, and I do not mean McDonalds. They serve Japanese food.
One look at the place setting and my concerns over salad forks and which bread plate is mine were gone. I quickly glanced around the other tables at the restaurant. All I saw were chopsticks and this was a brand-new set of problems for which I am unprepared.
After observing my dining companion’s ritual of separating and sanding the chopsticks, I mimicked their actions. I can do this!
The first course, the chef, thankfully, sliced the lettuce into small pieces. Without attracting attention to myself, using the chopsticks to pick, slide and stab, I was able to successful eat this course. I’ve got this!
Meanwhile, the relationship strengthened as the conversation easily meandered from hometown to family to strategic goals.
Because of certain dietary needs, what was served to me next was different than my companions. It contained olives. Okay, it was a dirty martini. But at this point, it really was a need!
Grateful to be holding something other than the chopsticks, I swirled the olive skewer in the drink. Feeling sure of myself, I popped the tip of skewer into my mouth and gracefully slid one of the olives from the stick. Yep, I am sitting with the big boys!
With the first bite I realized in horror, the olive contained the entire pit. According to the rules of etiquette, you use your fork to properly remove the pit from your mouth. I did not have a fork and did not think with my 20 minutes of experience I had mastered my chopstick technique to use them for this job.
While my boss and C Suite were discussing multi-million-dollar business strategies, I contemplated available discreet options for removing the pit in my mouth. A plan was formulated. Listening to the tone and cadence of their conversation, timing for just the right moment, I swiftly performed the napkin trick. Crisis averted! I’ve so got this!
A course or two later, I carefully used my napkin, aware it concealed the pit. With the napkin in my lap, I touched the edges and could no longer find the pit. It must have leapt to its death under the table! Problem solved!
The remainder of the meal was incident free. We thanked the chef for his inspired culinary artistry. The three of us left the restaurant and walked through the casino to leave. At the exit, we shook hands and said our goodbyes.
The evening was incredible. We discussed tactics for rebranding, organizational restructuring and opportunities to increase market share. I had just successfully navigated the high-powered business dinner!! Wahoo! Fist bump!
As I walked away, I felt something. On the back of my pants. A wet spot with an olive pit embedded. At that moment, there was nothing else for me to do but hold my head high and wear it with pride!
As leaders, we will be faced with new challenges. Our previous successes will help guide us. However, some missions will not go as planned. To adapt to changing landscape, expanding our knowledge base is critical. Embrace growth. Take every opportunity to learn something new. We do not know what opportunities lie ahead of us or what tools we will need. It is better to be prepared than allow our leadership skills to end up in the pits!