A couple of weeks ago (as I mentioned) we moved into a new office. Since we wanted the space to reflect our Bates Communications brand, we trekked to the Boston Design Center to spend money and picked out fancy furniture including a new executive desk for me. I’ve sat on the other side of a countless number of these, but until now, never had one of my own.
It’s gorgeous. It’s perfect. And, I have to admit, it’s also quite dangerous.
First, it has the potential to change people’s perception about you. Suddenly you are a big desk person. Yes, yes, etiquette demands getting up and moving to the couch when people come in, but it just isn’t practical to leap up and move for every 57 second meeting.
The greater danger in my humble opinion is that the big desk threatens the very scrappiness that got you there. BBD (Before Big Desk) you worked really hard, and you still do. But you may forget to work scrappy. This quality you cultivated so carefully can slip away as you revel in the comfort of your well-appointed home-away-from-home.
Deep down you know that you need to stay scrappy. The economy is improving but the last recession has changed business forever. Our companies are more productive and efficient; we’re tougher, but so is our competition. Scrappiness is necessary to drive forward with a competitive edge.
The big desk theory includes other potential dangers. Big desks ward people away; they may not drop in and tell you stuff, so you may not get to weigh in on improtant matters. In addition, the big desk creates physical and psychological distance. People on the other side of the big desk think, “Gee, this (guy/gal) can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be me, fighting in the trenches every day.”
However, the most insidious danger of all is the inner mental battle of the big desk. It’s similar to the inner battle you must wage about sitting in meetings all day. As I’ve often said to our executive clients, you need to let people know that meeting about things isn’t doing them. Meeting about selling isn’t selling. Meeting about operations isn’t operating. Meeting about innovation isn’t innovating.
When you think about the desks you’ve had before you arrived, it’s kind of fun. My first desk was shared space – a formica top in a TV newsroom where dozens of burned out cigarettes stood like solders on every surface. Ashtrays were regarded by reporters as unnecessary.
Some years later when I started my business I moved a scratched up, oversized writing desk into an 8 x 10 screened in porch we had converted to a home office. Later when the business grew we got our first “real” office and I bought a pretty little glass top desk, but I rarely sat there. My desk was wherever I was, in a hotel, on a plane, in the car.
The other day I saw a picture of the $20MM Los Angeles home that Tom Brady and his wife, supermodel Giselle, just purchased. It’s drop-dead stunning. But, you have to respectTom Brady, because in spite of his success, he trots out on that football field every week and fights as if he’s a first-year quarterback trying to prove he’s worthy of playing in the NFL.
I wouldn’t want to give up the big desk. I like it. But sitting behind one, you can’t let it define you. You have to cultivate the scrappy mindset. Don’t forget all those desks that got you to the point where you can sit behind that big one today.