Episode #9

20 Dec 2019 | Tales of the C-Suite

The current fashion for pleated skirts and the seasonal strong winds are not a match made in heaven. How to respond when your humanness (and your knickers) are exposed in a Marilyn Monroe moment.

I was reminded of this famous image when I had my own Marilyn Monroe moment recently, in full view of a significant number of my peers at a business function.

As I have said before, a working career is not Instagram perfect. There will be ups and downs, the inevitable stuff ups… and moments when our humanness and our knickers are exposed.

How you respond to the unexpected and how you act when in unchartered waters are the things that will set you apart.

In this 1954 photo, Marilyn Monroe poses over the updraft of a New York subway grating for the filming of “The Seven Year Itch” in New York. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)

Over my 35-year career there have been many less than perfect moments. Here are just a few that may echo your own experiences too:

  • Forgetting someone’s name when introducing them.
  • Forgetting to pick up my son from day care (the bigger mistake was telling him about it when he was a teenager, inadvertently giving him a lifelong tool of derision and rebuke!)
  • Delivering my impassioned opening address to an audience of aspiring women leaders, turning around to illustrate the point with my first slide and… seeing a blank screen, then needing to ad lib for several minutes while the event organisers rebooted the slide deck.
  • Having a new org chart projected on screen to 100+ managers at a company-wide meeting and seeing for the first time my “new role” and “new reporting line” which to all intents and purposes read like a demotion.
  • Having my work disparaged at a conference by a speaker who clearly did not realise that I was in the audience.

How you respond in these less than perfect moments will have a profound effect on how you are perceived by your peers, your team, the executive team, the influencers and decision-makers. More importantly, it will have a profound impact on how you perceive yourself.

You don’t need to be perfectly in control in every situation, so long as your reaction is authentic and consistent with the person you are being.

One way to figure out how to build a reputation for grace under pressure is to reflect on your less than perfect moments and image how you would like to describe what happened later to a peer or mentor. How would you like to be able to describe your reaction and your mindset, your bearing and appearance?

One of the witnesses to my Marilyn Monroe moment was Dianne Irving, Founder & Author, Little Tulip Books, USA. Here is how she remembers the moment, which could have been interpreted very differently dependent on my reaction:

“How Amanda handled a moment is a testament to who she truly is. I was present to witness Amanda’s leadership style when presented with the unexpected. The gusts of wind (literally) under her skirt were no match for her quick thinking, flinging her salad plate across the table to free her hands to tame her billowing pleated skirt. Amanda’s good humour, poise and grace showed us first-hand how to regain composure with style. This lionhearted leader created her own memorable moment for us to experience and remember with joy and laughter.”

Here we are re-living the moment (sans pleated skirt).
Laughing with me, not at me, I’m sure.
Kona, Hawaii, 2019

The way I describe my Marilyn Monroe moment is to focus on the good grace of those who were there with me, to laugh wholeheartedly at myself and to put the anecdote to good use as a learning exercise for the women I mentor.

How you respond to your confusion, mistakes and embarrassments in everyday situations will do more to cement your reputation as the person to turn to in times of crisis, when decisions need to be made and true leadership is called for… than how you perform in a pre-prepared presentation to the executive team or a pitch to prospective clients.

Not all our tales from the C-Suite are of triumph and success. Remember to see every experience as an opportunity to be noticed for all the right reasons… and always wear nice knickers.

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