There I was, brand new on the project, replacing a project manager who had vanished into thin air. I was beginning to envy him his vanishing act. I could see that the project had been ridiculously under estimated. I was not just new to the project, I was also new to the consulting firm I was representing. Oh and I had been told I would not be assigned to run any client projects until after three to four months of home office training and assisting other project managers.
On my very first day of work I was transferred immediately to a client site. What happened to the three months of home office training? Where did these crazy estimates come from? Why was my new boss so anxious to put me on an assignment? During the interview process he deemed me not ready to run large projects. As you might guess, I was a bit put off by the situation. OK, the truth is, I was pretty freaked out!
About a week into the assignment, it was time for me to meet with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and discuss why the project estimates were off base. Unfortunately this was our first meeting. Surprise, surprise our account manager who swore his undying support to me; did not show up. I was a nervous wreck. I walked into the CIOs office and immediately noticed that this man had a toupee. Not just any toupee, but the worst piece of fake hair I had ever seen. (Not that I was an expert, but bad is bad.) It was also a bit crooked and part of me wanted to reach up and straighten it out. (I did restrain myself.) So there it was on his head, this bad crooked hat made out of synthetic hair.
There is nothing wrong with wearing a wig. There are many reasons why several of us might don a wig during our lifetime. This was eleven years ago. Options were limited, I am not sure hair plugs and transplants were available to anyone outside of Hollywood and it was not fashionable to shave your head. I get it he was not ready to be bald.
So there I was, nervous, awkward and staring. I could not stop looking at this mans head. Every place he moved (he walked around the office a bit during our conversation), there were my eyes, on his head, waiting for that toupee to fall off or walk off or jump off his head and attack me (because it could have been a rabid cat). Maybe he did not even have eyes or a nose. How would I have known? I was completely transfixed by his toupee. YES, I should have been more mature and in more control of my behavior. For some reason my case of nerves turned into an inability to visually focus on anything other than his head.
Eventually the meeting wrapped up. For an entire hour I had spoken to the top of his head. Now it was time for me to depart. I started my exit line and froze, I could not believe what I was saying and yet I could not take it back, nor could I finish my sentence.
I looked at his toupee and said, Well I guess now it is time for me to get out of your .. The unfinished sentence hung there for what felt like an eternity. To his credit, he looked at my kindly and calmly and said, You mean, now it is time for you to get out of my hair? I could not leave that office quickly enough.
And no, he did not call and ask to have me fired or replaced.
PS If you ever think one of YOUR meeting moments has done damage to your professional image, then be sure to check out Recovering from Damaging Situations.