24 hours from Bottle to Throttle

My wife recently bought me a new boat as a celebration of leaving corporate life after 38 years. (yes, I am a lucky guy) I have been a boater all my life so having a boat was not new but this boat was bigger, more complicated, and there are lots of new things to learn.

The place we bought it provides unlimited training for getting up to speed on the boat. The first thing the trainer told me was, “24 hour from bottle to throttle.”

Translated, don’t drive this boat if you had anything to drink in the past 24 hours. You are responsible for the lives of everyone on this boat and you must be 100% mentally and physically ready to take responsibility for everyone on board. This is how people die. You now have greater responsibility that just yourself. That got my attention.

This directive from the trainer triggered the thoughts for this article. As leaders, do you practice the 24 hours from bottle to throttle rule?

I have seen leaders at dinner, after dinner, and later in the bar continue to pour down the drinks before the big meeting or the big presentation. Maybe it’s the nerves or anxiety or what ever but they can’t seem to help themselves. And what happens? They simply can’t be their best if they are nursing a hangover, right? It’s just impossible to be your best self if your body is processing all that booze.

I have also seen people destroy their careers by having too much to drink and running their mouths too much. They get to dinner or a cocktail party and they start telling stories that takes them to bad places that are at best irrelevant at worse highly offensive. I have seen customers and suppliers have too much to drink and the next thing you know they are now going at one another over a minor issue. The next day they could not get on the same page one bigger issues because they were still mad about the night before.

I have been at dinners where a customer had too much to drink and started telling jokes that were at best, boarder line acceptable and some that were flat out insulting. When someone would try to move the conversation back to normal, they would bring it right back to inappropriate trash. I was at a dinner when a very Senior Executive drank way too much and was loud and rude. The President of his company was at the end of the table and was watching the whole thing. I watched him get madder and madder. Less than 3 months later that executive with the mouth was history.

A CEO recently told me a story about one of his top guys lose a big deal with a customer while they were in Asia finalizing the deal because his guy drank too much and offended a very conservative customer.

The CEO’ and leaders of companies are watching. The smartest leaders observe those who do not have discipline to know where to draw the line. They make decisions about the character of a person when they are social settings. I think many times negoiations and promotions are significantly influenced by how a leader manages their behavior outside of the office. I know they do.

Imagine the opinion of the decision maker in a social setting who is observing someone who is loud and annoying vs another person who is poised and classy. The decision maker is evaluating the character of the person they might be doing a deal with in the future. Trust me, class always wins over time.

Now I was not a choirboy during my 38 years. I did some stupid things. Lots’ of them. I was once on a team outing and we had a few drinks at dinner and I thought it was a brilliant idea to leave the entire team of 400 people a “team voice mail. Trust me it was not a brilliant idea. Once after dinner I went far over the line in criticism of some new product launches. That was not helpful as 20 versions of that rant got back to the head of the product area. The list of my mistakes could fill many pages.

To help me structure a little discipline in my day I finally started calling the nights before work “school nights” and thought of them as days before important work and to stay clear headed.

Employers take years grooming and preparing employees for these moments with important customers or suppliers. It’s up to the employee to make sure they put themselves in the best possible physical and mental condition before big meetings. Try the “24 hours from bottle to throttle rule.

Wayne StricklandComment