Drop Your Clues Carefully!

I was conducting a leadership workshop in Zurich for a top business school. There were about 60 persons in the audience, mostly senior executives.

I began by saying that I knew something about Zurich that I bet they did not know. And then I paused.

They were intrigued and sat up straight. Some had been born and raised in Zurich and were skeptical that an Indian born American professor knew anything about the city that they did not. I continued to remain silent, and a chorus of voices asked me “What?”

Did they know, I asked them, that Zurich had the world’s oldest continuously functioning, chess club? One person raised his hand.

We went on and the workshop was a big success.

The gentleman who raised his hand came up to meet me during the lunch break. Some years before that the Zurich Chess Club had organized the world’s first tournament for world chess champions and my son and I had flown to Zurich to attend this. Virtually every player of note was there — Vishy Anand, Kasparov, Karpov, Spassky, Topalev, Kramnik, and many more.

Andre Vogtlin, the knowledgeable seminar attendee, had also been there. We became friendly and kept in touch. A year later Andre flew from Basel to New York to take my course Creativity and Personal Mastery (CPM). We became even friendlier, and he is now an active and engaged member of the CPM alum community and has attended alumni retreats.

Andre is now the president of the Swiss Chess Federation and is doing pioneering work in propagating chess among young people. He gave me a gift I treasure highly — a chess board signed by Mikhail Tal, the diseased former world champion known for his sharply attacking style.

There is a reason I told you that story.

We are always dropping clues about ourselves. What we like, what our beliefs are, what we stand for, what we admire. Sometimes it is overt. More often we have no clue that we are dropping such clues. We drop clues with tone of voice, body language, facial expression, choice of language and much else.

The story I told my Zurich audience was an entertaining way to begin my workshop. It was also in invitation to anyone who had a serious interest in chess to identify themselves. There are many times when I have benefited by dropping such clues consciously and deliberately.

For example, I was speaking to a New Age audience and purposely mentioned a teacher who is not widely known but very well regarded by serious seekers. A handful of persons came up to me after my talk and one later became a coaching client.

As with you, so with others. They are also dropping clues and most do it inadvertently. It is your job to be sensitive to what they are really saying.

I was in a business meeting in India and my colleague was pitching a senior executive. The executive said he needed to check with his boss and would get back to us. He thought we had a good idea.

My colleague thought the meeting went well. I told him that the proposal was dead, and we did not need to follow up. He disagreed. He wanted to know why I was so ‘pessimistic’.

I pointed out that, while socializing before getting down to business, the executive narrated many tales about his progress, and they all highlighted his making quick decisions and cutting through ‘red tape’. But now he needed to check with his boss. It was a polite brushoff. Further he said it was a ‘good’ idea. In India, if someone you are negotiating with is not overwhelmingly, effusively enthusiastic, you have received a ‘No’. You just don’t know it.

And indeed the proposal went nowhere. My colleague followed up diligently until the executive stopped taking his calls.

Like Hansel and Gretel you, too, should leave a trail of breadcrumbs so persons can follow you and/or you can find your way back.

What would you like to highlight in the clues you drop and how do you propose to drop them?




Srikumar Rao is the author of “Are You Ready to Succeed?” and creator of the celebrated MBA course, “Creativity & Personal Mastery.” // theraoinstitute.com

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Srikumar S Rao

Srikumar S Rao

Srikumar Rao is the author of “Are You Ready to Succeed?” and creator of the celebrated MBA course, “Creativity & Personal Mastery.” // theraoinstitute.com

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