Go Slow to Go Fast

Have you every had a really crazy date? Or worked with a leader who was totally delusional?

Well that was me, about 15 years ago, single (again), feeling old (ironic now) and unsure on the Acela train.

It was just after the diversity council debacle.  I was sitting in the café car on my way to NYC for another meeting trying to rebuild trust.

I hadn’t looked up when the crowd pushed on at the Wilmington stop. It always gets crowded at that stop, and frankly I was really hoping no one would sit next to me. I wasn’t exactly feeling like company.

The conductor came on the overly loud loudspeaker to remind us they had just put on a fresh pot of coffee and the café car was open, when I heard a voice across the aisle, say, “You look really beautiful in that dress.”

To give you a sense of my mental state, it didn’t even occur to me that comment could possibly have been directed at me.

After all, I was beginning to believe my mother’s fear that at 35 it was too late to find someone new and I’d end up alone. In fact I was pretty much accepting the fact.

Five minutes later the voice came closer and I realized that the voice and the man it belonged to were standing in the aisle beside me.

“You know, it’s customary here on the East Coast to say “Thank you” when someone pays you a compliment. Where are you from?

I looked up and locked in on his beautiful brown eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Yes, thank you so much, err, very much. Do you want to sit down?”

We exchanged stories in a non-stop flurry of excitement. As it turns out Kurt was a West Point grad, also divorced with a small child, and spent half his time in Maryland, with his daughter and the other time in New York running his business. He had a similar juggling lifestyle, except I was in a row home and the Sheraton and he a Waterfront property in Annapolis and a penthouse.

“What are you doing for dinner tonight?”

I told him my plans were to head back that night on the train.

“Is your son with his Dad?”

I said yes, totally relieved to find someone who got the picture before I had to explain it.

“You can grab the 11:14 train home after having dinner with me at this awesome place in Central Station. I do it all the time. I’ll make reservations for 6 that will give us plenty of time to talk.”

By the time I got on the train home that night I began wondering how I’d stumbled on someone so interesting, smart, and let’s face it, rich.

I resisted the urge to call my mother and tell her so. As it turned out, that was a good choice. She never heard this story.

After a week of flirtatious emails and some flowers delivered to work, he invited me to dinner in Annapolis with his daughter, Molly.

“Don’t you think that’s premature?” I asked.

“Nah, It’s casual. I like to have her meet successful women. She needs a good role model. We hang out with friends a lot.”

The evening was going great until I found myself alone with little Molly at the table. “My daddy has already figured out how he’s going to ask you to marry him,” she said matter of factly.

I choked on my water.

“He has? Really. How?”

“Well he’s going to be at the finish line of your next marathon with a bottle of champagne, roses, and a ring.”

Kurt came back to the table and I locked in with those brown eyes again, but this time searching for signs of mental illness.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“I told her your secret,” Molly sang out.

“We need to talk.” I said coldly.

“Later. Let me get Molly to bed and I’ll put on some coffee. I can explain.”

We got home and he encouraged me to wait downstairs in the rec room.

I smelled the coffee brewing, and could hear sweet daddy daughter chatter. Hopeful that this was Molly’s delusion, I made myself at home and poked around (as any self-respecting-freaked-out second-dater would do).

I opened the door next to the stairs and found his office–which was decorated as the spitting image of the oval office.

I was still standing in the doorway in shock when he tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a cup of steaming coffee.

“What is going on?” I was shaking now.

“Sit down”, he said calmly, as if he had done this a hundred times before.

“Look, Karin, it’s like this,” he touched my hand sincerely.

“I’m very successful and very busy. I’ve got my life mapped out. I’m going to be President some day and I like my office this way as a constant reminder and inspiration. Every time I sit in that chair, I’m reminded of my goals. Anyone who visits knows my intentions.

I don’t have a lot of time to date, and quite frankly neither do you. We both have a hard time finding someone who meets our standards.

You meet ALMOST all of mine.”

Almost all ??? (I was insecure but still feisty).

“Yeah, you’re divorced and that’s not good for a first lady.”

I started, “May I point out…” and then stopped myself. Why in the world was I defending myself?

“But I’ve been doing a lot of digging. You’re attractive ENOUGH you make a good ENOUGH salary, you’re articulate,  and you go to church.”

And he continued, “I think we can make it work.”

My only thought now was how fast I could sprint to my car, whether I could outrun this West Point grad, and how many other first lady candidates he’d scared off on the second date.

I know you’ll find this shocking, but I’ve yet to see him emerge as a candidate.

Although this year, he might actually have a chance.

Accelerators have great vision, but they also know when to go slow to go fast.

Don’t scare off your team with audacious expectations too soon. Sure paint a vision, but make each step feel doable and realistic. Go slow to go fast. Burn the script and watch the magic unfold.

Two weeks later I met a grad student living in a rented room studying to be a teacher.

Two years later I married him.

But first, I checked the basement.

How To Build a Strong Team Vision

Whenever I take over a channel or team, one of the first questions I ask is “what is the vision?” Most of the time, this is tough to answer. There is usually strong alignment and attachment to the greater organization’s vision and values, which is vital.

However, what I find frequently missing is a sense of team vision. What is this team really about?

Sure there are goals. There may even be big important goals (see How to Pick the Right Big Goal). To build results that last, people want a connection to something bigger. The more localized you can make the vision, the more likely that it will stick.

In her post, “A Big Goal is Not the Same as a Vision, “Jesse Lynn Stoner shares:

“One way to distinguish between a vision and a goal is to ask, “What’s next?” A vision provides clear ongoing direction—it is clear what you should do next. As you take each step, the next one becomes clear. A vision continues to act as a beacon, guiding you in setting new goals once current ones have been achieved.”

To Build a Vision: Start With Questions

Creating a great team vision starts by asking questions:

  • What is the company vision? How does our team make a difference toward that end?
  • What will we be known for?
  • What feels impossible?
  • What do our customers most need from us?
  • ??? your turn what would you add?

This exercise works well too.

Imagine it is 5 years from now. Our team is being recognized for making a game changing contribution.

  • What is the most important work we are doing?
  • What are our customers saying about us?
  • What does it feel like to work on this team?
  • What is senior management saying about us?
  • ??? your turn what would you add?

The answers to these questions, help to surface what your team could be about. From there, it’s a narrowing process. The dialogue and debate are an important part of the process. Don’t rush it.

Dan McCarthy provides a fantastic step by step guide to building a vision in his post, How to Create a Shared Vision Statement. I have used similar methodologies over the years.

Of course, the danger with such exercises that is that they remain just that. I can’t tell you how many conference rooms, offices and cubes I have walked into and seen a beautifully laminated vision statement, that no one can articulate. Even worse, when I ask about it, it is doing absolutely nothing to inspire planning, behaviors or decision-making.

Vision statements that sit on shelves do more harm than good, and can can diminish your credibility as a leader. If you chose to tackle this exercise, be sure you are fully committed.

I will talk more about how to link behaviors to vision in tomorrow’s post.