Where You Stand Depends On where You Sit.

“Where you stand depends on where you sit”, also known as Miles Law, is one of my favorite quotes. For those of you who know me in the second person, you’ve likely heard me express it and many of you think it original to me. No, I steal from others’ rumination quite liberally and unabashedly. Failure to learn from others or from the past dooms you to eternal beginner status.

World class communication skills and refined problem solving approaches require an instinct to mentally investigate motivations of others. They also require a hesitancy to trust your unique intuitive ability to understand what motivates others.

Consider two similar adages which indeed on the surface seem duplicative yet are distinctive:

  1. Walk a mile in another mans shoes.
  2. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

So similar initially, but context creates the distinction. The mile walk might symbolically represent another’s mood or education or goals or sense of self-worth. Projecting YOURSELF in assessing why or how another views an issue is unlikely to clarify the nature of a disagreement.

Allow me to offer a simple example.

I had at one time a significant role at the Waldorf Astoria in a client-facing role. In that role, the Waldorf’s relationship with Hilton Hotels was not an issue I was eager to highlight.

Is Hilton a fine hotel company? Yes indeed. I value my time with them and count my time as a Hilton employee as a career highlight. Yet clients who became aware of our status as a Hilton branded hotel had two typical reactions, neither of which I considered additive. They either segued to the prospect of generating or burning Hilton Honors loyalty program benefits or they responded with a verbally obvious downward-in-enthusiasm response.

I spent millions on that loyalty program and while in total there is no reasonable disagreement on its efficacy, a client already on the hook was not a target for its use. And as to the second reaction it is indisputable that the Waldorf ennobled Hilton rather than the reverse.

From where I sat, my stance was animated by these perspectives.

Hilton upper management however embraced an entirely different attitude. I can write with confidence that rare indeed was the senior executive presentation delivered where, as share of wallet or channel distribution was identified, the Waldorf was not identified as a component of the enterprise. Phraseology such as “from the smallest Hampton Inn to the famous Waldorf Astoria…….” was invariably uttered.

The inclusion of that hotel was a strong lever.

The hotel perspective differed from the C- level perspective. Where we sat determined where we stood on the issue.

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

I should note that an honest critique of moi would assess whether I truly had a mindset worthy of Hilton. My paycheck was from Hilton and Hilton deserved my total allegiance. Thus to apply a Milton Friedman management perspective I should have run toward any tactics to elevate Hilton. In my defense, albeit weak, my goals, bonuses, reviews, and performance were exclusively measured in terms of the Waldorf’s financial performance.

Whenever you have a disagreement with another, especially when intractable, I suggest considering where your, for lack of a better term, opponent, sits. Doing so DOES NOT change where you sit and should not necessarily change where you stand. Yet it might! Indeed by better understanding what the loyal opposition has as critical factors may help you negotiate. And it might be totally off what you’d think. Someone’s input might be affected not due to long term strategic goals but rather because they have to pee really badly or they need to return a call or because they did not understand what you said. And of course it could be a series of elements much more strategic in terms of what they are trying to accomplish.

One way to view where folks might stand is to consider long haul versus short term thinking.

Let’s say I run a chain of Popeye’s. And let’s say my P&L last month was awful. I need next month to flow; I need to address margin erosion.

Well, every month I spend money on light bulbs, and I typically purchase energy efficient models with a long life. These features make them expensive to purchase. Long-term however they make sense insofar as they reduce energy costs and infrequently need replacement, with a labor halo effect beyond replacement cost issues.

But I can also purchase inexpensive bulbs and save several hundred dollars this month. And this month matters! If where I sit is in the chair of a regional restaurant manager with eroding margins, climbing food cost, and an RVP up my rear, I might retreat to short haul mode. Where I stand depends on where I sit.

In closing, I touched on a couple topics which merit your focus as a manager of others.

People respond to goal setting. How one’s performance is measured is critical, so if what gets measured gets done, then measure the important stuff. Not the nonsense. Measuring a sales person’s revenue is more important than solicitation calls (Not nonsense, but not the metric of success). They are not equal. Measuring an accounts receivable person by 90 and 120-day aging is more important than tardiness.

Secondly I alluded to Milton Friedman and I encourage you to introduce yourself to his book Free To Choose. It’s not a page turner, but it is a learning opportunity for anyone who wonders how capitalism has resulted in even room attendants and street sweepers owning iPhones; obesity among the needy; all the other general aspects of a rich society. The poor in countries without capitalism have large swathes of their populations lacking clean water, plumbing, electricity, etc. Venezuela’s condition today as it’s government nationalized industry and ran from capitalism was as foreseeable as tomorrow’s sun rising in the east. Now they are eating trash and fleeing Columbia. Columbia!!

Someone notify Sean Penn, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone- heck better tell CNN too!

Lastly, I wrote obliquely about your unique ability to intuit others’ motivation. I often meet folks who take pride in their ability to get a first impression of someone and always be right. My bullshit meter goes immediately to red when I hear that. More likely they close their mind to triggers which deny that first impression and they note with satisfaction those triggers which support. Maybe rather than great radar, we are talking about close-mindedness and confirmation bias. But you might see it differently because, after all, where you stand depends on where you sit.

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