Steve travels frequently. The New York Times caught up with him stateside to discuss lessons he’s learned on the road:
For the article, click here: New York Times Frequent Flier Column or read below:
When in Rome, an Executive Coach Learns How It’s Done in Italy
I spend so much time in airports I think I should be paying rent. For 23 years I have hopscotched around the globe as an independent sales and executive development coach, teaching the staff of large multinationals how to sharpen their professional talents and realize their full potential.
Before I can be a good teacher, however, I must first be a good student. Once I’m in the boardroom, the language of sales is the same no matter if I’m in Albuquerque or Zurich.
But outside, things are different. So I do extensive groundwork gleaning everything I can about business mores and corporate culture in the place I’m about to work.
I now know how to dress appropriately. But that wasn’t always the case.
The first time I went to Moscow, it was late spring and, since the forecast said it would be warm, I packed accordingly. I realized my error as soon as I stepped out of the airport terminal right into a snowdrift.
No one shovels the sidewalks when it snows in Moscow and everyone wades to work in insulated boots, carrying their office shoes. My Italian loafers and summer-weight blazer obviously weren’t going to cut it.
So before going out to dinner with my client that night, I went to the shopping center, GUM, to pick up some warmer clothing. All the winter lines had been stored away and all I could find was some midcalf black boots and a black leather trench coat. Final price: $4,000.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I looked like Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix.” When I returned to New York, I gave the stuff to charity. After all, where was I going to wear that ensemble in the city?
I am also now better adept at planning my lectures. I was in Madrid teaching a two-day program in professional development to seven high-level financial executives. It was an intensive course, and I had tightly scheduled each day with only a short break in the middle for sandwiches. Everything went well until lunchtime.
Instead of passing around a takeout menu as I had expected, all my students stood up in unison and announced it was time to go out for a bite to eat. Their version of a bite to eat and my version of a bite to eat were diametrically opposed. But when in a different country, do as the natives do.
Lunch was a four-hour, seven-course affair. Each course was accompanied by a different wine. The afternoons were shot. So now I know to front-load my lectures for the mornings and to leave the afternoons to food and drink.
Doing as the locals do can have some unexpected benefits. When I was in Bangkok, my client invited my group of students and me out for a farewell dinner. When he asked what I wanted to eat, I replied vaguely that “fish” was always my first choice.
So I was somewhat bewildered when, 20 minutes later, we walked into a massive supermarket. All 10 of us were given shopping carts, and I was instructed to pick out what I wanted to eat, including one of the fish swimming in the huge tanks by the checkout counter.
Our selections were then cooked right in the store and served on plastic plates at Formica tables under the full glare of the lighting. I still remember every mouthful. But I can’t think of the name of the fish.
Memo to self: Carry a notebook so I can write this stuff down.
By Stephen Giglio, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: email@example.com