I’ve heard this story many times. The big boss is right in front of you. Normally, you never see him up close. You are in the middle of the organization somewhere and he is the leader. You start to feel butterflies in your stomach. Then, he asks that incredibly insightful question:
How’s it going?
Arrghhh. What do I say? What does he mean? Is he asking about the TPS report? I have been having trouble because of the ink in the printer. I should say something full of wisdom. I should hit the nail right on the head. Give a good answer! Don’t say something stupid! Maybe he wants to know about the Jets! Or my thoughts on the economics of the stock market. Or should I just say, “Good! and You?”
Finally, you decide to talk about the thing that was most on your mind a few minutes before the boss came over. He smiles at you, nods and moves on.
This is the moment when you say, “Ugh. I am a complete moron.”
I just did this yesterday. I’ve heard of people doing this to captains of industry like Jack Welsh or the President of the United States. It’s common, we all do it. I wish that made me feel better but it doesn’t.
Sometimes they ask a specific question, like “How are those TPS reports? Did our improvements work?” I hate this worst of all. You are put on the spot to give a good answer. Your mind races to all the possible issues, you are in the weeds.
My advice, which I often forget to follow is to keep it simple and buy time. Say “I think it’s [good/bad/mixed]. I can’t explain why on the spot, but if you want, I can gather my thoughts and come to you later. Listen to what the boss is saying closely. Find out their point of view. Most of all, engage brain before mouth.