You never know what’s going to stick. Have you ever wondered why certain things resonate with people and other things don’t? Why some things seem to stick in someone’s mind even when you think it’s insignificant?
I recently attended my 35th high school reunion and was looking forward to reacquainting myself with old friends, many of whom I’ve not seen since the last reunion I attended 25 years earlier. As I arrived my wife and I approached past classmates and the reminiscing commenced, lasting into the wee hours of the morning. During the course of the evening I bumped into someone I haven’t seen or talked to in 25 years. The first thing he brought up was an embarrassing (for both him and me!) event that happened 40 years ago! While I recalled the event, it struck me that this was the first thing he remembered and how after all these years and the many other great memories we shared, this is what came to his mind when first seeing me! Now I know what Bill Buckner feels like……lots of good things to have your name attached to but unfortunately one embarrassing moment sticks out!
Somewhat similarly, RDG has a great client who runs a highly effective organization but like it or not, has certain community leaders with long memories that are slow to move on from an event that happened 17 years ago. My client wasn’t involved with the organization at the time and the source of heartburn from these business leaders wasn’t necessarily a major civic negative. In fact 95% of the business community would be hard pressed to recall this particular incident; yet when I met with one of the 5%, the first thing out of his mouth referenced the 17 year old occurrence. And while the 5% is a small percentage, it’s a formidable group of business leaders…….. a group that can’t be ignored.
Even though he wasn’t in the city at the time, in the eyes of some of these key community elders, he’s guilty by association. So what are you supposed to do?
With my buddy (maybe not!) I laughed and quickly changed the subject to the “good time memories”. But now that I know what he chooses to remember of our relationship I’m better equipped for the conversation we most likely will have five years from now.
With my client, well, like it or not he’s saddled with being the face of the organization for which this unfortunate incident is still top of mind for a small but important segment of his constituency. He’s in a tough spot . While I know he feels like screaming out the fact he had absolutely nothing to do with the past, he has to take the high road and keep a stiff upper lip, keep the big picture in mind and continue to promote the good things the organization has accomplished. As an old coach used to tell me, “blessed are the flexible, for they may not be bent out of shape”.
Why is this important? For a couple of reasons I think: first, in spite of our best efforts to control the narrative, sometimes the narrative can control us! It’s in those situations that we have to set aside our personal feelings and be strategic and resolute in addressing challenging circumstances. Second, the high road is always the best road! Often times it is the road less traveled and sometimes you have to stay on it for 17 years (or longer!) but eventually it will lead to a better place!