Chris Lester sat across the conference table from General Wesley Clark. It was an afternoon meeting--an important one. The General's staff had brought Chris in to talk brand strategy for General Clark's consulting company.
General Wesley Clark graduated valedictorian of his West Point class, received a Rhodes Scholarship, was shot four times (one month into his first command in Vietnam), commanded the Allied Force in Kosovo as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, ran for President of the United States in 2003-2004 and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
General Clark enters the room, he is not pleased. First, the General did not know why he was there (2 overlapping meetings on different floors). Second, he was under the impression that this work had already been completed through another agency. Lastly, the General typically wakes up at 4am so a late afternoon meeting meant that his patience was wearing thin.
And now he was to sit in front of a brand strategy guy late in the afternoon. He was not happy with his staff or the time he had to commit. So he gathered himself, sat down at the table and locked eyes with Chris and proceeded to put Chris through one of the most interesting/difficult/life-changing meetings of Chris's career.
As the General locked eyes with Chris, he began by reciting the last 500 years of world history complete with detailed analysis of critical world milestones and their relationship to each other and the impact each milestone had on the world, as we know it today. After 10 minutes of speaking uninterrupted, he finished with a statement and a question for Chris: THAT IS WHY I AM HERE. WHY ARE YOU HERE?
The meeting did not start well for Chris. The staff had shared that the General presents a down to earth personality, is very engaged in his consulting business and is just a very nice guy. That was not what Chris was experiencing in the moment. For any of us in the business of pitching business, we know exactly what Chris was feeling - that our well-conceived, pre-planned pitch just got thrown out the door.
Chris had just a few moments to decide what to do next and the answer had to embrace the General's question: WHY ARE YOU HERE?
It is these moments that ultimately define us, isn't it?
Chris reviewed his basic options. He could run the playbook he had prepared for, or run a new playbook completely off the top of his head (and hopefully deliver something relevant and inspiring). He had been here before which signaled to him to trust his instincts.
In this moment, Chris came up with a set of goals:
- I have to match his presence (do not try and exceed it or be small and subsumed by it),
- I have to communicate what I do that his business needs now (he probably hates squishy strategists like me),
- I can't be esoteric: my point-of-view must be simple and clear. (No agency-like questions such as "what is your favorite color, or tank").
So, Chris looked across the table and found an older brochure from the General's consulting company that had an old map (one representing a view of the world circa 1500's). He grabbed the brochure and stood and addressed the General.
"This world that is represented on your brochure no longer exists. My job is to interpret today's world and help companies like yours navigate your way in this new world. That is why I am here."
Sell too hard to a person like General Clark and you will be cast aside. Take a traditional business development path and you will be viewed like every one of your competitors. Limp in and he will never respect you or your company. It is in these moments when each of us needs to dig in and uncover the most authentic version of ourselves and then find a way to cast away our fears and deliver the goods.
That is why I am here.