How a missed opportunity led to the leadership straight talk framework

“I’m here to sell you.”

As he uttered the words, I winced as I looked up from the back table. The audience of security leaders acted in unison. Heads went down. Phones and devices came out. Eyes darted. People stood to leave.

Opportunity missed.

But then he added, “I’ve been selling to security leaders for 10 years. Let me tell you what I’ve learned.”

For a brief second, he had my attention again.

Imagine if he laid bare what it was like to sell to security leaders. While it could be negative, it could also be an authentic exploration of how we can all do better.

No such luck.

Instead, he fumbled into incomprehensible slides and information from their website. Value eroded, his voice trailed off into the background as my mind began to race.

I got a spark.

Crumpled cloth napkins littered the round hotel conference table. I smirked at the notion of ideas getting their start on a napkin… and instead reached for a fancy pad of paper.

I needed to write down some ideas before they faded away.

Over the previous few weeks, I’d started asking people  “what problem are we trying to solve?” or “how tall do I need to be to ride?” These are conversational questions. They help focus on the real challenge and assess potential solutions in context.

Lunch was my break between the morning Leadership Summit and the afternoon workshops. I had just presented on the foundational elements of value, measurement, and communication.

Something connected.

Instead of judging the vendor, I considered how he could do better next time. Without much thought, I wrote down the five questions I wanted him to answer. These five questions are now part of the Straight Talk Framework.

I ripped the sheet off the pad and tucked it in my bag.

During the evening reception, the vendor who blew the pitch walked up to me and asked,

“Well, how’d I do?”

I asked if he wanted candid feedback or just a pat on the back before we enjoyed our drinks and conversation. He pressed for feedback. I offered that he ceded his value the moment he told people he was there to sell them.

The look on his face matched his reply, “That’s harsh.” Flanked by other members of his team, he then asked me,

“Well, what would you have done?”

It was during one of those weird lulls in the bar, and now the attention was on me. Everyone wanted to know what I would do. Feeling a bit like E.F. Hutton, I looked around at the blend of CISOs and vendor reps and smiled.

I replied that I wanted him to answer five questions.

Then I listed off each question. I shared why these were leadership questions. We discussed possible answers based on the little I knew about his company.

His eyes showed his excitement. One of his colleagues started bouncing in his shoes with energy. The CISOs nodded in approval.

Then something else clicked.

I asked the CISOs how many could buy the solution without the approval of someone else. Each of them needed approval.

These are leadership questions. I asked if they could answer the same questions, but in their context. Answers matched to the needs of their organization. I pointed out the power of using the same questions  vendors, CISOs, and executives.

They agreed.

With that validation, I started to explore a bit more. It developed into a powerful leadership framework to get the Straight Talk we need. A way to bring people together and give them a voice without wasting their time. To build confidence in three key areas: domain, alignment, and resilience. To make better decisions faster, with more consistency.

It started as five questions on a sheet of fancy hotel paper. Now Straight Talk is a  good start on the journey to exceptional leadership and powerful communication.

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Michael Santarcangelo
 

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.