Provo-based Qualtrics was in the news a few weeks back when the company announced they were being acquired by SAP for a whopping $8 billion. It’s the second largest SaaS acquisition ever and a huge win for the state of Utah. Having gone to college in Provo, I closely followed the details of the acquisition.
I couldn’t take my focus off Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP. Each picture and video clip showed him wearing sunglasses. I kept thinking, Why on earth does this guy wear sunglasses indoors? Who does this guy think he is?
Well, eventually I took the incredibly difficult step of entering “SAP CEO Sunglasses” into the Google machine. It turns out there’s a very good reason for those sunglasses. In July 2015 McDermott was walking down the stairs at his brother’s house, holding a glass of water. He slipped and fell, shattering the glass, and a shard went through his left eye. He was in surgery for over nine hours the night of the accident and had more than 10 surgeries in total. Eventually he lost the eye.
McDermott actually said that losing his eye changed his life for the better. “You fall down stairs and get knocked unconscious and the glass hits all the wrong parts. You’ve got to find a way to get up. So I don’t get rattled by the chaos. I get inspired by beating it back and finding out how gorgeous it is on the other side.”
Immediately upon reading the article, my view of McDermott was flipped upside down. I went from thinking he was probably an egomaniac to being totally impressed by how he’s coped with a serious setback.
I saw him do something I thought was odd (wearing sunglasses inside) and judged him for it. My judgment was way off. The experience was a needed reminder that when we see others act in a way that is peculiar, or somehow different from what we expect, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt. First impressions are often wrong.
I recently had a meeting with an employee that I was dreading. I’ll spare the details, but he was frustrated about his compensation and felt like he had been wronged. He had spoken about this with his manager and HR partner on multiple occasions. Still not satisfied, he reached out to me over Slack. I walked him through the situation, the various factors at play, why we made the decision we did, and that we wouldn’t be revisiting that decision. Undeterred, he asked if we could meet in person.
Given that I had little to lose in this meeting (he was likely going to be angry at me regardless of what I said), I tried a tactic I learned while reading Chris Voss’ book, Never Split the Difference. Voss taught that you can neutralize angry people by identifying the worst things the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can. These accusations often sound exaggerated when said aloud, so speaking them will encourage the other person to claim that quite the opposite is true.
The employee was already in the conference room when I arrived. Before he could say anything I blurted out, “Listen, I know you’re pissed off about the situation and must think I’m a total jerk.” The employee responded by saying he wasn’t really that mad, he just wanted to understand why I’d made the decision. His anger was diffused, and after I walked through the rationale for our decision, the conversation came to an amicable close.
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
I want to be a good person, but I regularly fall short. I strive to love others and show kindness, but sometimes I choose to be selfish instead. I have many weaknesses.
For this reason I’m grateful for good examples. I’m surrounded by many great people I want to emulate. I find good examples in the books and talks I read. Sometimes I learn from people who are wildly successful, but more often than not I’m taught by an “ordinary” person living their life in an extraordinary way.
It’s one thing to talk about virtues. It’s another to actually live them. I’m thankful for those who walk the talk.
I am grateful for good examples.