This story was told the other day by General David Petraeus (The head of all international forces in Afghanistan) just before a press conference illustrating the meaning of true importance.
“This was about 20 years ago when I was the aide to the Army Chief of Staff in the Pentagon and Colin Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.One of my fellow aides overheard the joint chiefs killing time before they were waiting for the arrival of a foreign dignitary. And the topic of conversation turned to examples of true importance. And what it really meant to be truly important.And after a bit of banter, one of the chiefs offered what seemed to be quite a good opinion on this.
In my view, he said, true importance is a meeting with the President of the United States in the Oval Office, during which the President asks all of the other attendees to leave so that he can do a ‘one on one’ just with you.
All the chiefs nodded at that.
But then another chief chimed in. ‘Actually chiefs, he asserted, ‘true importance is a ‘one on one’ meeting with the President in the Oval Office during which the President is so intent on what you are saying that he doesn’t even answer the hotline when it rings’.
Well that had all the heads nodding in agreement. Until General Powell, a man who had, of course, as the National Security Advisor, spent quite a bit of time in the Oval Office, settled the question once and for all.
Chiefs,” he said authoritatively, “true importance is a personal meeting with the President in the Oval Office, during which when the hotline rings, the President answers the phone, holds it out and says – Here Colin, it’s for you”.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: