Friday, January 21, 2022

A Professional Nickname That Speaks to My Brand (Meat Thermometer)

A recent blog post discussed professional nicknames as cues about one's personal brand. I've had three such nicknames. Here's the background on the first one: meat thermometer.

Yes--someone I worked for said I was like a meat thermometer. Yes--it was meant as a compliment. More importantly, the comment helped crystalize my thinking about one of my strengths--and, therefore, a critical component of what I like to think of as my "brand." Let me explain. 

I worked at a public relations agency for two and a half years.  I look back on the experience with fondness, even while acknowledging it was a difficult place to work. The owner had a habit of coming down hard on employees who he thought weren't delivering the results he believed were possible. The pressure was intense. We worked long hours and turnover was high. 

I got to know well most of my colleagues during my two and half years at this agency. I heard about their challenges in working with clients, supervisors and colleagues. I was very social, and became known as such--which was accompanied by a quick (and occasionally sarcastic) wit that ruffled some feathers.

Little did I know my socializing had been noticed, and favorably so. The co-owner of the company, who alternated between being personable and difficult, approached me one day as I poured myself a cup of coffee. "Mitchell," she stated, "how is it going? How is everyone doing? What's the general mood like here?" I didn't know how to respond, much less whether it would be wise to do so. l remained silent.

She continued: "Mitchell, I ask you because I know you know what's going on. You have a sense of what morale is like. You know what people are thinking. You have a keen understanding of our agency and its culture. You're like a meat thermometer."

I answered her questions to the best of my ability, and then turned away, aghast at this new moniker. A meat thermometer measures the internal temperature of meat and other cooked foods, letting the chef know whether they're ready and safe to consume. I couldn't fathom how that in any way described who I was.  

Many years later, long after I left the agency, I came to understand the real meaning of my "meat thermometer" nickname. 

I saw I indeed had a knack for understanding what was really going on in that organization, and in most of those I've worked for since as an employee and consultant. I listened and observed, noting what was said as well as what went unsaid. I can "read" situations--whether in an organization, group, or a classroom, and based on that insight, could respond accordingly. It remains hard for me to put into words this skill, or gift, as I like to think of it, even to this day. I just have a feel for what's going on beneath the surface in groups and organizations. In short, I'm grateful for the third party observation that enabled me to zero in on this ability and to understand a critical element in my brand as an educator and consultant.

So you may continue to call me the "meat thermometer."

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