People don’t bother with understanding. Really, they don’t. When I tweet something like “Maybe it’s…
10 years ago the idea would have freaked me out.
Traveling to China all by myself. To a strange country I had never been before (except for 2 days of vacation). With a culture vastly different from my own. And nobody there that I know. To offer a 2-day course for top managers, who know much better than me how to run a business unit. And who are experts in manufacturing, of which I know nothing. And then to have a 1-hour conversation with China’s most famous CEO. A person who normally has meetings with people such as Gary Hamel and Michael Porter. And who expects to see visitors appear in suits and ties.
What was I thinking?
Well, lots of thoughts crossed my mind. But fear was never among them.
I once had a boss whom I feared. I felt intimidated whenever he was around. He was bossing everyone around, micromanaging everything. And in the first months of my job I shrank a little whenever he thundered past me, hoping he didn’t notice me. Or else he might stop and bite my head off.
Until the day he said something unpleasant to me and I decided to bite back. From that moment my boss suddenly treated me like an equal. I discovered that the only way to get respect from this guy was to stand straight, and not shrink away.
I didn’t let myself be intimidated anymore.
I learned that respect can be earned.
Some people are like big bad-tempered dogs. They snarl at every other dog that passes by. These dogs are not very impressed by the sight of a shivering Chihuahua. But it doesn’t matter when you have the size of a Chihuahua. What matters only is that the growl you give in return has the sound of a direwolf. That’s what generates respect.
And that’s why I rarely feel intimidated anymore.
I have learned how to growl.
I don’t care when people know more than I do, are smarter than I am, or have more power than I have. I have my pride, integrity, and honesty. A straight face and a straight spine. That’s enough for me to make a good appearance.
The whole trip to China looked to me like a big hairy Chinese dog, snarling at me from 9,000 km away. And I don’t mean the people, who were all very nice and friendly! I mean the situation, as described above, which looked complex, uncertain, and scary. But I looked it in the eye and growled back.
Then I said, “What can I do for you? I’ll do whatever I can. It may not be much, but whatever it is I’ll do it my way. Oh, and I don’t wear suits and ties.”
And then the Chinese dog barked happily, licked all over my face, and gave me a flu.
(picture: Elsie esq.)
(Jurgen Appelo is creator of the Management 3.0 course, a 2-day course for team leaders, development managers, Scrum Masters, Agile coaches, and other change agents.)