There’s a great article by Sara J. Welch in today’s NY Times (subscription required), entitled, "Traveling with the boss." It’s chock full of useful tips from experts on what to do and not do while traveling with the one’s boss. The bottom line is that a junior employee is "always on" when traveling with a boss, and should act accordingly.
The article brought back a flood of memories for me, both on the sending and receiving end of things.
I remember traveling with a client many years ago to attend a sales retreat. I was about 25 at the time, and made sure to ask the client in advance how I should dress for the Sunday afternoon flight to Phoenix. He responded by saying, "dress casually." I took that as an opportunity to wear jeans, t-shirts and sneakers to the airport. Imagine my surprise when, upon conecting with him, I saw the client sporting a blue blazer, blue button-down shirt, khakis and loafers. He immediately pulled me aside and said, "Steve, there’s casual. And, then there’s casual. Don’t let this happen again. Your appearance reflects on me as well and makes me look bad in front of my management." Lesson learned.
The Welch story also advises junior staff to be mindful of what they say to their superiors when traveling on business, and to not be too casual or engage in inane or inappropriate conversations. The latter admonition reminded me of a more recent incident in which I was traveling with one of our newer employees. Up until the point, I’d never really had a chance to speak with her with the exception of a few e-mails, etc. So, as we sat back and relaxed, I told her to go ahead and ask me any question about myself, the agency, or the industry. She became flustered, and was obviously at a complete loss as to what to ask. Knowing that the firm had recently rented a midtown Manhattan apartment for use by our senior executives and visiting clients, she finally blurted out, "So, what does the corporate apartment cost?"
That was it. That was her sole question of me. I answered her question, she nodded her head and then dove headlong into a book she’d brought along. Needless to say, I wasn’t very impressed. And, needless to say, she no longer works with us (not to imply that that comment cost her job. On the contrary, she simply didn’t work out).
Here’s one final, more upbeat travel saga. A group of us were recently traveling to the Midwest, and had encountered endless, weather-related delays. In fact, our late afternoon flight was eventually cancelled and we were forced to stay overnight at a godforsaken Newark-airport hotel, and grab the first flight out the following morning.
Beaten bedraggled and brutalized by the experience, our little quintent shuttled over to the terminal at five am. Once we checked in, we discovered that one of our group had been upgraded to first class. It wasn’t me. But, guess what? The woman who had been upgraded selflessly gave me her first class seat. She’ll forever be a hero to me and today, sits in my partner Ed’s office (only kidding). I may, in fact, remember her in my will.
Business travel, and comporting oneself in a professional manner while traveling, is a subtle, but critical, part of one’s overall professional development and career path. Ms. Welch’s column should be made mandatory reading in all college and university business programs.