Self-Deception and the "Box"
It was a brilliant summer morning shortly before nine, and I was hurrying to the most important meeting of my new job at Zagrum Company. As I walked across the tree-lined grounds, I recalled the day two months earlier when I had first entered the secluded campus-style headquarters to interview for a senior management position. I had been watching the company for more than a decade from my perch at one of its competitors and had tired of finishing second. After eight interviews and three weeks spent doubting myself and waiting for news, I was hired to lead one of Zagrum's product lines.
Now, four weeks later, I was about to be introduced to a senior management ritual peculiar to Zagrum: a daylong one-on-one meeting with the executive vice president, Bud Jefferson. Bud was the right-hand man to Zagrum's president, Kate Stenarude. And due to a shift within the executive team, he was about to become my new boss.
I had tried to find out what this meeting was all about, but my colleagues' explanations confused me. They mentioned a discovery that solves "people problems"; how no one really focuses on results; and that something about the "Bud Meeting," as it was called, and strategies that evidently follow from it, are key to Zagrum's incredible success. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I was eager to meet, and impress, my new boss.
Bud Jefferson was a youngish-looking 50-year-old combination of odd-fitting characteristics: a wealthy man who drove around in an economy car without hubcaps; a nearhigh school dropout with law and business degrees, summa cum laude, from Harvard; a connoisseur of the arts who was hooked on the Beatles. Despite his apparent contradictions, and perhaps partly because of them, Bud was revered as something of an icon. He was universally admired in the company.
It took 12 minutes on foot to cover the distance from my office in Building 8 to the lobby of the Central Building. The pathway—one of many connecting Zagrum's 10 buildings—meandered beneath oak and maple canopies along the banks of Kate's Creek, a postcard-perfect stream that was the brainchild of Kate Stenarude and had been named after her by the employees.
As I scaled the Central Building's hanging steel stairway up to the third floor, I reviewed my performance during my month at Zagrum: I was always among the earliest to arrive and latest to leave. I felt that I was focused and didn't let outside matters interfere with my objectives. Although my wife often complained about it, I was making a point to outwork and outshine every coworker who might compete for promotions in the coming years. I nodded to myself in satisfaction. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I was ready to meet Bud Jefferson.
Arriving in the main lobby of the third floor, I was greeted by Bud's secretary, Maria. "You must be Tom Callum," she said with
"Yes, thank you. I have an appointment with Bud for nine o'clock," I said.
"Of course. Bud asked me to have you wait for him in the Eastview Room. He should be with you in about five minutes." Maria escorted me down the hall and into a large conference room. I went to the long bank of windows and admired the views of the campus between the leaves of the green Connecticut woods. A minute or so later, there was a brisk knock on the door, and in walked Bud.
"Hello, Tom. Thanks for coming," he said with a big smile as he offered his hand. "Please, sit down. Can I get you something to
drink? Coffee, juice?"
"No, thank you," I replied. "I've had plenty already this morning."