After a lot of effort in putting together this huge meeting for managers and leaders, the conference finally kicked off in this beautiful Naivasha resort. Day one was great and as the Moderator, my team and I were delighted that the delegates appreciated the great minds that we had invited. The conversation was fresh, inspiring and mostly authentic. The morning of day two started equally well and as we broke for lunch I was confident that that the last speaker of the day would be a nice icing on the cake. As soon as I introduced the afternoon speaker, I quickly took to my seat eager to savour his presentation. One minute into his presentation and I knew that something was not right. His body language was not stable. The gesturing was all over the place and his speech confirmed that he was not together. He was intoxicated! In the two or so minutes I observed him on the podium I was enraged. How dare he spoil everything that we had toiled for? How could he drop the ball and indeed the conference momentum from a fever pitch high to a rock bottom low? What an embarrassment! This was the barrage of emotion that was welling up in my inside. In this disposition, I ‘knew’ exactly what to do – I briskly walked to the stage, grabbed his hand and regretfully led him outside and left him in the hands of my colleagues who led him to his room.
I then came back to conference hall, apologized fervently to the delegates…..mumbling something like …choices have consequences….openly denoting a lot of disapproval for his bad conduct. I then led discussions in the afternoon session which I must admit went on great. In the course of discussions however, a few people lauded my response to the situation, which I appreciated but I veered off what had just happened because I did not want the incident to dominate the critical leadership discourse that we were to have.
But this one comment from a delegate changed my perspective. All this time, mine was a story of pure judgement! In my single perspective, this guy’s behavior was plain and simple – offensive. All I cared about at that particular instance was my image and that of my organization and of course the great experience that I wanted my delegates to have from the Conference. In that moment, I lacked empathy. It did not occur to me to think of this resource person, an accomplished leader and what he could have been going through or what could have happened to him within the one hour of lunch break. I judged him! I condemned him!
As I reflect on this incident now, I can’t help but think of how our conclusions of someone or an issue can summarily determine our actions denying us the opportunity to empathize, reach out or even be of help to others. In any case, there is always a second side to any story!
Before you judge, seek to understand! It is Mother Teresa who put it in a more profound way – “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
If you wondering what happened; the following day in the morning, the same resource person took to the stage and made a great presentation that was met with a thundering applause from the delegates!
Disclaimer …..This story (though edited for confidentiality) is about me and not about my subject!