One-faced all the time

I’ve had some interesting opportunities over the years to meet many different types of people, including politicians. I’m afraid I have come away from some experiences rather surprised and disappointed about duplicitous behavior.

One-faced all the time by Nancy Knowlton

Some time ago I was involved in a multiday event with some high-ranking politicians and business people. I was delighted to be included in the meetings and appreciated getting to know the small group of business people in attendance. The in-depth discussions of bilateral relations were instructive. It was interesting as well to attend a state dinner at the residence of the prime minister of the country that we were visiting.

Meeting prime ministers

To kick off our meetings, the business people were invited to an historic city outside the capital for coffee with two prime ministers. Traffic was heavy and it took us a considerable amount of time to get there, but we arrived in advance of our hosts and that was all that mattered. While awaiting the PMs, I stepped out onto one of the long balconies outside the main reception room overlooking the inner courtyard just in time to see one of the entourages arrive. The prime minister who stepped out of the car was easily recognizable. I stepped inside just as the prime minister bounded up the long staircase, two stairs at a time, with an aide huffing and puffing after him. After quickly looking inside at the group of business people the PM turned to his aide and said, “I don’t see any votes in here. Let’s get this over with.” Then he proceeded inside and introduced himself, one person at a time, to the assembled group, a big smile flashed on his face.

A short time later the second prime minister arrived. He came into the room with great fanfare as well and was as engaging with the group as the first. As he approached our group he brushed in front of me so close that he knocked me backward. Fortunately, a couple of our group caught me and prevented me from falling.

I had some immediate reactions to both behaviors by the heads of state, and none were positive.

Artificial behavior

For one PM to say aloud to his aide that he didn’t care about meeting us because he didn’t see any votes in the room was just downright disrespectful. I could imagine that he had many such meetings during a year. I also could appreciate that he was tired from international travel and perhaps needed a rest before our dinner later that evening. I could imagine that he did many things in the course of a year that he would have preferred to not have to do. The discordant element for me was the mismatch between his words and his obviously faked warm behavior.

Rude conduct

For the second PM to make a beeline to the executives he recognized and almost knock me over was equally disrespectful. Multiple executives saw this and sarcastically commented that he must have thought that I was one of the serving ladies. (While engaging and gracious with the executives, the PM was curt and sharp with the ladies serving us refreshments.)

Today we hear a lot about the need for authenticity in leaders, and this experience was a sterling example of why we don’t like two-faced politicians or business people. That behavior taints not just them but their office and diminishes trust in and respect for them.

What I’ve learned after experiences like this and through my own interactions with many people over the years is it is best to have just one way of behaving.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.