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December 08, 2008
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Being There without Being There

Two conversations with British friends in the past month came together last night during a conference dinner event.  The lively discussion with guests from three continents was complicated by the pounding sounds emanating from a disc jockey’s impressive array of sound equipment. It was also interrupted by the well-intended behavior of the server.

She appeared at the table before some of my colleagues had even finished the food on their plates and began to collect dishes and silverware.  She interrupted our conversation by asking if we had finished and if she could remove the plates.  Of course, the questions occurred after she had already started that process.  It was hard enough to converse well with the background music, but the server’s appearance added a new complication.  The person was not trying to be rude.  However, she was so focused on the task at hand that the surrounding environment seemed to be irrelevant to her.

My British colleagues had interesting and quite different backgrounds but shared a significant characteristic of professional conduct and success.  The first is my friend Jason King, a British-trained butler and estate manager.  In discussing “butling” over dinner last month, as Jason served a beautifully prepared pasta dish, we discussed the impeccable service characteristic of being very much present in the life of your employer, but not being obtrusive or interrupting.  The ideal butler will anticipate needs and will be ready to meet them immediately.  However, the butler will hardly be noticeable during dinner or a meeting.  This highly trained professional will be a presence in the house but will not interfere with the events in progress except to improve the quality of the encounter.

Jason has managed the Rosenberg “estate” while we have been away.  When we returned, we found the mail gathered and neatly sorted, the house clean, our favorite foods in the refrigerator, the vehicles gassed up, and the HR Dog, Kamala, very well taken care of.  In fact, she kept wandering around for several days after we returned seeking out her friend Jason for some play time

Had a repair been necessary, or an emergency occurred, it would, no doubt, have been handled expertly.  We’re sold on the value of Jason’s estate management services.  Now, all we need is an estate worthy of such expertise!

“Being there but not being there” is also the watch word of an expert in the personal protection of top executives as well as Queen Elizabeth II.  Chris Hagon retired as a superintendent of Scotland Yard, having spent seven years commanding the “close personal protection” of the Royal Family.  His unique security firm, The Incident Management Group, protects and escorts corporate leaders and provides other security services around the world, often calling upon a strong network of what singer Garth Brooks would call “Friends in Low Places.”  We have done many presentations together and worked on several projects assessing the security at hospital facilities, child care operations and other places.  As the protection officer in the car with the Queen — the one always present and always ready to protect proactively — Chris is also a skilled practitioner of the concept in this article. 

Whether the subject is protecting people or managing an estate as a personal assistant, the concept of being there without really being there is of critical importance.  Think about how you can be present and contributing in your own work, without distracting, derailing or interrupting the work of others.  Imagine how you might have dealt with a friendly, well-intended colleague who may be a brilliant subject matter expert, but may lack a critical expertise — knowing when to contribute and when to remain an always ready “phantom of the opera” in the background. 

We all get excited about a new thought or idea during a meeting.  We may feel that our proprietary thought must be immediately added to the discussion.  However, simply jumping in without a sense of the impact as well as the content of the interjection can serve to detract from the value of the contribution you are trying to make.  It may annoy those around you, including your boss, your work colleagues and your family members.  It may come to mark you with a reputation that harms your move forward in a great career, or in the chance to date that dream significant other.

Conversely, practicing the skills of the butler or the protection officer can help you come to be known as a person who can be counted on to offer a great contribution at the right time and in a discreet, respectful manner.  That reputation will help propel your career over time and your relationships with others. 

Don’t worry, Kamala, Jason will come back and visit regularly!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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