What Matters Most

What Matters Most

Imagine yourself in a business strategy course your senior year in college. Assume you had a “perfect” 4.0 average grade and were determined to keep it. With the final exam approaching, you’d likely spend many days and nights studying. You would probably memorize formulas or calculations, review notes, attend cram sessions and quiz study partners.

When the teacher hands out the final exam on a single piece of paper, you might be surprised. You might even be perplexed that it’s not far longer. And, what if both sides of that paper were entirely blank? Imagine once everyone has the paper, the professor says, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last few months, but the most important question is this: What’s the name of the person who cleans this building?”

Would you pass or fail the test?

Charles Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger tells this story and it packs a memorable punch. It was the only college exam he ever failed. He says he got the B he deserved in that class but learned a lot. Over his years as a student, he had seen the janitor (Dottie) hundreds of times. He’d never taken the time for conversation or to ask her name.

The professor’s assessment sent a powerful message. What matters most says Bettinger, is that you never lose sight of the people who do the real work. His story is a terrific reminder about the perils of thin air. Be sure your altitude doesn’t affect your attitude.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. leads Wyatt Advisors, a resource for effective people and organizations. See: www.wyattadvisors.com. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact: lwyattknowlton@gmail.com.

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