The Three Doors Speech

Not an easy transition from the Cavalry to corporate life at a wine company

Not an easy transition from the Cavalry to corporate life at a wine company

Sharing another “spark” moment in my life…

…this one was a pivotal moment in my life and career. 

From Green to Grapes

I had recently transitioned out of the military to a corporate/civilian life.  My job in the Army had been riding around on M1A2 tanks and M3A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.  I hadn’t seen any combat, but I still had a warfighters mentality from my time in the Cavalry.  Let’s just say that mentality didn’t serve me all that well in civilian work life.  Don’t get me wrong – most veterans transition easily and become huge advantages to the organization that bring them in.  I struggled - a lot. 

Ready for Promotion

Fast forward about 18 months after transition and I feel like I’m killing it.  I’m hitting all the production numbers – saving cost, increasing productivity and generally tearing things up.  I felt like the production crew respected me (or at least feared me) and things were going well.  A promotion opportunity was posted and I put my hat in the ring figuring I would be the logical choice. 

The HR Director called me into her office to chat and I started picking out the colors for the curtain in my new office.  I thought she would congratulate me and let me know more about the situation.  It wasn’t that kind of conversation. 

Mike – I wanted to talk to you about the new position.  Several people have come to me and have asked for you not to get the job. 

She let this sink in. 

One of them is your boss.

I was pissed.  How could people treat me like this?  I was the sure choice!  If they wanted results, then I was the one who could deliver.  And after 18 months, why hadn’t my boss communicated anything to me?   He is supposed to support me! We had so many opportunities for 1:1s and he never scheduled even one. 

For a brief moment, I wondered why these people didn’t want me in the job.  For a split second, I held the mirror up and considered what I had done that led to several people lobbying against me.  The HR Director caught this reflective moment.  She continued.

I think you have three doors that you can walk through right now.  Door number 1 is where you feel the organization is unfair.  You stay frustrated that your boss never shared this feedback and decide that you want to take your talents elsewhere.  You are talented, Mike, and I’m not sure I would blame you. 

Door number two is where you decide to listen to the feedback and commit to making changes.  You realize there must be something off with your behavior that is impacting your effectiveness as a leader.  There may be something you can learn, so it’s worth pausing to find out more. 

And door number three?  You know, there really isn’t a door number three, Mike. 

I rode home in shock.  What just happened?  I went from the certainty of an upcoming promotion to someone telling me to fix my shit or take a walk.  I’m not sure that’s how she meant it, but that’s what I heard.  And her message could not have come at a worse time. 

I had just bought a house and was about to have my first child.  Money was tight and the promotion would have been key.  I kept thinking about the HR Director’s message and started to share the situation with people close to me.  Most of them asked about the behaviors people were talking about at work.  What are they saying you are doing?  I told them that coworkers were saying that I pushed my own agenda, I was visibly frustrated in meeting and didn’t listen enough.  I asked people around me if any of them saw me behave this way.  And to a person, they all answered the same way. 

Actually, yes. 

Could this all be true?  This led to a lot of soul searching – a LOT of deep soul searching.  I thought about what kind of leader I wanted to be.  What type of person, friend, father did I want to be?  How did I want to show up in the world?  Everything at once was spinning around in my head.

I ended up doing a LOT of personal development over the last 20 years – much of it driven by the three doors speech.  I remember the next step.  It started with a 360 assessment.  I still remember the lowest score.

Does this person have a pleasant disposition?

The score was very, very low.  It was the first time I cried in a long time. I got the message.  I was an asshole. 

It’s been a long road.  I don’t think I’m an asshole anymore.  Well – a little.  But I’m getting better…and there’s a lot more to the story.

- Mike Sweeney, 

If you found this post valuable, please share it far and wide so others can benefit. If you’ve had a spark and want some oxygen to turn it into a RAGING FIRE, shoot me a note @ Maybe you just had your “three doors” moment…