L’esprit de l’escalier:
We have all been there.
You are responding to a job interview question or having a spirited debate.
When it is over, and you walk away, that is when you think of that perfect response.
And I mean perfect, the mother of all answers and proof of your wisdom and powerful intellect.
Except, no one is there to hear you.
The literal translation of L’esprit de l’escalier means “the spirit of the staircase.”
The phrase is attributed to an 18th-century French philosopher who was berated at a party in a Parisian loft.
He left the party and went to the ground floor, where he looked back up the staircase.
And at that moment, he found his wits and came up with the perfect reply.
Letting an audience member down
Recently I spoke at the Certified Human Resources Professionals conference.
The workshop was titled: The HR Professional’s Dilemma: Leading When You Have Full Responsibility, But No Authority.
I have to say it went well. The audience was engaged. I felt great.
Then the last question of the session was asked: “What do you do when no one is supporting the project you are trying to get done.”
I gave an okay answer, but not the best solution.
The conference centre is built into a hill, and there are several long escalators to ride as you move through the building.
When I got to the bottom of one escalator, literally and figuratively, L’esprit de l’escalier hit me.
The response I should have given came to me.
I should have responded with a series of questions:
Who’s project is it?
Is it your project or the organization’s project?
Have your peer and leadership teams said the project was vital to achieving the organization’s strategic objectives?
Because if the project is only your priority and not the whole organization’s, it will be hard to move it forward.
If everyone is not pulling together towards success, you will be all alone pushing a rope.
It happened to me.
I dreamed of hosting a high-end conference to promote my organization’s work and establish us as a world-class centre of excellence.
I put into my team and personal performance objectives and got them into the organization’s strategic plan.
But it was only my plan.
My peers and boss seemed okay with it and did nothing to stop me from moving this forward.
I made $20K worth of commitments to meeting planners, hotels, and speakers.
And it failed because it wasn’t an organizational objective.
The better answer
If the project you are working on does not help your organization meet its strategic objectives.
If it doesn’t help your boss meet their performance objectives.
If it doesn’t support your peers’ objectives
Then you are undertaking a Sisyphean task or are shouting up the staircase.
So, ask yourself why you are doing it.