Look down at your feet. Right now. Notice anything? probably not. But the other day I looked down at my feet and saw something that I never expected.
I just finished delivering the keynote talk as a global IT leadership team of a major multi-billion dollar global company in Europe. The talk concentrated on answering the question why do we need an IT organization? I had flown in the night before to get a good night’s sleep, but that meant packing in a hurry and rushing to the airport. That was when the bad week started.
I left my phone in the car. I only realized this after going through security and waiting to board the plane. Other than that the trip was uneventful and the presentation went great. As I sat down, I looked down at my feet and realized that I had two different shoes on! The left foot was a black dress shoe. The right a cordovan modified wingtip. I had two different shoes, two different styles, and two different colors.
I hoped that no one noticed. I was up on a stage so my feet were not in plan view and besides who looks at anyone’s feet anyway?
Boy was I wrong. After the other speaker was finished, the moderator called us up for questions. The first question was, you guessed it, about why I had two different shoes on.
I thought about it for a quick second. I could tell a little lie and say I wore two different shoes on purpose and as sign of the need to step/think out of the box. I could say that was how I knew you all were paying attention. My mind stopped there when a little voice said – just tell them the truth.
So I did. I told them that I had just noticed it myself. I stated my embarrassment and apologized for the shoe wardrobe failure. I then said that I could have made up a story about being innovative, off balance, etc. But that I thought the truth would be better.
Honesty turned out to be the best policy. You see the audience had thought I did it on purpose. People thought it was some part of an ‘act’ about innovation, transformation and the creativity that comes from being a little weird. They had expected a slick answer and when I told the truth, I faced the slight but real embarrassment it had a big effect. It told people that I was real, human and humble. It reminded them of similar moments in their past. It lent credibility to the things I said in the presentation. It was the right thing to do, despite how stupid it made me feel.
So with that confession, we moved forward, and the day got a little bit better.
I will do better next time, and every time, so if you see me with two different colored shoes, it’s not an act, its for real mistake and that requires real honesty.