Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rules of Engagement

A recurring theme in many of my conversations with fellow dog owners, friends and clients is the rules of engagement.   With dogs there are clear rules (note that I am writing them as I've learned them - not the strict rules):

1.  When you approach a dog ask if it is ok to pet the dog.  Little girls just love how fluffy Bizz is and he never snaps at people so I'm always happy to say yes.  If I see a child looking at him and I can tell they want to touch him, I always check in with their parents first if it is ok.
2.   If you have a dog and are approaching one ask if it is ok for the dogs to meet. I have had several owners tell me their dogs bark, bite, lunge or don't like small dogs.  Others say yes and we always chuckle at the traditional dog sniff and wag. 
3.   Never offer a dog something to eat without asking if it is ok.  I always have to tell clerks that Bizz is very fussy and most likely won't take their treat but they are welcome to try.  But some dogs are on strict diets and you need to honor the owners requirements.

In the real world there are rules of engagement as well.  The tremendous challenge is that everyone's rules are very very different.  In a recent Politico article about the executive and managing editors of the New York Times it seems the rules are a bit bizarre.  The woman is criticized by her subordinates  for traveling for her job to high profile events while the man is celebrated for punching walls but not people when he is upset.  My question would be why is she ever in the office at all?  Her job is to represent the paper and manage it effectively at the most senior level.  4 Pulitzer prizes and increased digital media are pretty good in an age when papers are struggling to survive.  She is delivering results and pays attention to the details and expects people to perform. However, people don't like her voice (like any of us can do anything about our voice by the time we're over 40) or her brusqueness.  The man is considered charming and caring because he attends going away parties, but I would bet he was already in the office so attendance did not involve sacrificing work.  I would love to see everyone write down what the New York Times rules of engagement are and then compare them all across the board.

As I work with my business partner we have also been having a lot of conversations about our rules of engagement. In a recent meeting we had a very open and honest talk about what kinds of behavior are acceptable and what kinds create an uncomfortable environment.  It was refreshing to be able to talk about what sorts of behavior are and are not acceptable and to have the shared agreement about what we want our corporate culture to be. 

Google has a motto/slogan that sums up their rules of engagement- Don't Be Evil.  A great rule of engagement for everyone - too bad no one talked to Bernie Madoff about this.

My personal rules of engagement continue to evolve.  I think about this frequently as I engage with new clients. My goal is to  be true to myself and my own happiness.  Being a success is meaningless if you are miserable in the life you are leading. 

A very long time ago when I was a nanny my boss introduced me to "the richest man you'll ever meet".  He was worth 500 million dollars.  I was awed since that kind of money was unbelievable.  And he was extremely nice to me - in fact when we went to lunch in Montauk at a fish and chips place he gave me a $500 bill to go get the food.  I brought back his change and he told me to keep it.   A $450 tip which paid for all my books at college for the next year.  I was so grateful and profuse in my thanks and he thought nothing of it.  The next day was spent at his house where I saw what real wealth can buy -an enormous house, two pools, a pond that he'd had built (which made no sense to me since he had the pools and we were right next to the ocean), and amazing furnishings.  His children each had their own personal nanny and talked down to my two charges because they had to "share" me.  But with all the trappings of success I saw that his wife was anorexic and lived in fear of food (she kept asking me how many calories things had in them and then refusing to touch any of it); his children seemed endlessly stressed and whiny and he was surrounded with yes people.  From my perspecitve he never had a real conversation with anyone.  My mother had told my step dad that I would see how the other half lived that summer, he said I'd see how .001% lived. 

On a side note - I've had the privilege of meeting a number of billionaires in the course of my life including Bill Gates and Sheryl Sandberg - so my boss was wrong in assuming I'd never meet anyone richer.  I will however always think of him fondly - he was generous, funny and had a wonderful laugh. 

So bringing this all back to the rules of engagement - everyone has to find their own way and determine what rules of engagement

they can and can't live with.  However, just remember, ask before you pat my dog. 
Bizz and Teddy

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