I Will Call All Ma’ams Ma’am and All Sirs Sir, Ma’am…
Monday January 29, 2018
9:35 AM Pacific [SACRAMENTO]
Ever had one of those days? You know… the days where you call your superior officer “Sir” when it should have been “Ma’am”?
It was a summer day in 1989 when this happened to me.
You see, I was a Plebe at the United States Naval Academy, and the exact day escapes me. I’m sure it escapes me because of the sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion at the time… but I digress.
One of the requirements of Plebe is to “square corners” while jogging in place and greeting upperclass on your way to and fro in the bowels of Bancroft Hall. And, on this blurry day – I saw an officer (2nd Lieutenant) and greeted him with a very strong “Good morning Sir!”…
To which I heard…a rather high pitched voice – “Plebe – HALT!”
(there I was, my brain racing… ohhhh nooooooooo!)
I did the unthinkable.
I called a Ma’am a Sir and there would be hell to pay. And…
After what seemed like a lifetime of being berated for not understanding the difference between the sexes, I was given my punishment…
“Waldrop… from now through the rest of the day… when you square your corners, you will not be sounding off with ‘Go Navy! Beat Army!’… you will be sounding off with “I will call all Ma’ams Ma’am and all Sirs Sir Ma’am”
“Do you understand me?!”
With a braced-up nod and sweat pouring down my forehead, I muttered “Yes. Ma’am!”
So… from that point on, I became the guy that all the women in the building wanted to talk to. I became the laughing stock of my group.
And, it was because I acted and “sounded off” before I knew the right answer.
As I remember this happening, I can’t help but think how what I learned at this moment applies to teamwork and leadership everywhere. In fact, we had been conditioned at the Academy to only provide the following responses to direct questions:
(The correct answer)
… or … “I’ll find out”
It’s this last one that has a lot of power. It’s a way of recognizing that we can’t and shouldn’t know everything in the spur of the moment, but we have the capacity and capability to learn the right answer if we take the initiative to find out.
Recently, I took a group of leaders to a half-day offsite meeting where I encouraged them to add this new phase (I’ll find out) to their vocabulary, escpecially as it pertains to growing their team and their business units.
You don’t need to know all the answers.
You should know what you don’t know.
You must take the initiative to find the answers to those things that you do not know. Even if that initiative means delegation for someone else to find out for you….
The consequences of blurting out the wrong answer because you’re trying to be “clever” or show off simply aren’t worth the embarrassment and loss of trust that follows.
So… how long will it take for you to list all the things that you need to “find out” today?