Random Management Lessons From Dinner Table

Couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to host a client CIO and a senior IBM executive for dinner at a restaurant in San Jose, CA. It was one of the most interesting conversations I ever had over dinner, and to say the least – it was more valuable to me than many business school lessons. Since the CIO and me have regular meetings, some of it I already knew and had tried on my own. I wish I had taken notes – although it would have been awkward 🙂

The CIO explained how he helps his team set goals. He just asks them three questions periodically

1. What will you stop doing?

2. What will you start doing ?

3. What will you continue to do?

What an extremely simple framework , but it is extremely powerful. I have known his team for a couple of years now, and I have seen them transform. For the past several months, I have asked myself the same questions – and came to an interesting conclusion. My biggest conclusion was that it was way more hard to be fully critical of myself than I thought. Several things that I was very proud of about myself – I realized I could not take the amount of credit I have been giving myself.

Of the three questions, there is one that is harder than others for me. And that is “what will I stop doing?”. I delegate a lot already – thanks to the coaching I got over the years from my mentors. But as I thought more deeply about it – I could delegate a lot more. And if there is one thing I focus on with my mentees now – it is to delegate more. Delegation pays back in spades.

Talking of mentors – I learned the hard way the need to have multiple mentors. Just take the career front for example. To be a successful executive in my line of work- there are 4 things at least that you need to excel in

1. Developing People

2. Developing thought leadership

3. Managing projects and client relationships

4. Managing pipeline and sales

If I look at my mentors – there is hardly anyone who excels in each of these. If I don’t choose multiple mentors – it is not possible for me to become a well rounded leader. And if all of them work in the same environment as me – I probably won’t get any new ideas. IBM has a lot of emphasis on mentoring, and we can find out easily on intranet on who is looking for being mentored, and who is willing to mentor us. But that is just a first step – it does not mean you and your mentor will be compatible. I try to get leaders at my clients, at SAP, from analyst/blogger community, and at competitors to mentor me. It is not easy – and I have ways to go in finding mentors for all aspects that I need improvement. It is also important that I should be able to do something for the mentor in return. There might be a few selfless mentors who will help you without expecting anything in return – but my general philosophy is that if I am taking up their time, I should be able to help them in return in whatever way I can.

The IBM executive at the table is one of my mentors, and I have learned a lot from him. But let me point out just one thing he always does – which I don’t do, and I should try doing. I have taken many clients to dinner at this particular restaurant. The food is excellent, but service is not the best. And then we walked in and took our seats at our table. Next thing, the IBM executive asks the server what her name was. He talked to her using her name in every sentence for about 3 minutes. The result was unbelievable – this was the best service I have ever seen there in 10 years. I have seen this done many times by now, and it works like a charm. He does this with every one he meets – he treats them as peers, respects them, calls them by their name – and remembers them. I firmly believe it is a big part of his success in life.

There are a few more things I am surely missing here from last evening – but I need to go drop my daughter at her dance lessons. Off we go.

Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

4 thoughts on “Random Management Lessons From Dinner Table

  1. Vijay- You have noticed the nice part of your meeting with your IBM Mentor esp about the pitching the name of the server in all of his conversations. We do see many people in life do this but many of them unnoticed. I like this idea and will try to follow the same rule in my next meeting with my Europe SAP team scheduled to start in next 5 minutes.

    Looking forward for another post soon..



  2. Very nice Vijay.
    The Q’s asked by the CIO are very appealing. It gives you to do introspection and i think its very difficult to get answer in one go. I believe this is an art which needs to be mastered, we need to keep asking ourselves. After all, as you said – it was way more hard to be fully critical of myself.
    The other thing about asking the name – it really works. It creates a bond temporarily. And the result – you get service “Dil Se”.


  3. Excellent Vijay – simple is hard sometimes

    After the what comes the why of course, then the how; maybe in a different order depending on the midwife

    About the four points: develop people and initiative, manage clients and sales – interesting division there. But I see how you can hardly excel in all 4 unless you’re a natural maybe.
    I’d be inclined to say that I could learn the 1.5 of those I’m not good in, but that’s probably because of the distance between me and them, and my “lack of interest” – I’m absolutely good at what I like to do

    About the table chat – I laughed hard when I read that. I try to get that little click at every restaurant, although the naming thing won’t work here in NL. I usually ask what’s today’s special, then what he/she’s been serving most that evening, and then what he/she would recommend. It always causes a pleasant friction, and after the food choice I let the waiter recommend what to drink

    Treating everyone as at least equal is a goal I live by – and adhering to the Four Agreements has made that astonishingly simple


    1. It is pretty hard to excel in all 4. Some of the most successful leaders recognize it early – and then they work on their strengths to make them unbeatable in one or two areas. This way the “halo effect” kicks in, and their weakness does not come out. It always fascinates me


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