Shutting Down Inappropriate Behavior
“Did he just say that?” I asked myself.There were 32 angel investors in the room. We were in the midst of a lively Q&A having just been given an investor pitch from a female CEO. I was facilitating the session. The CEO adroitly fielded questions on market size, valuation, funding to-date, team, and more.
A hand went up from an attendee I never saw before. I am very careful who attends these meetings. I want to be sure we only have angel investors or people who want to become angel investors and have the means to do so. But this guy was invited by an angel I didn’t know so well who attended a past meeting.I recognized the new attendee and he asked, “I don’t know if you are single or married, but what are you doing on Friday night?”The room froze. You could have heard a pin drop. We all just stared at this guy, mouths open.The CEO said, “Excuse me?”“I just want to know if you are available to go out with me on Friday night,” he continued.
She asked, “Are you serious?”
“That’s not an appropriate question,” I said. And I moved to another angel’s question.As I was about to close the meeting, this guy jumped in and said, “I just want to apologize to the group. I’m sorry. The question was inappropriate, and I should not have asked it.”It was another awkward moment. I could see no one cared to hear anything from this guy. I know I didn’t care. It was so inappropriate I was still stunned and didn’t know what to say.
I closed the meeting.
He came to the front of the room and said to me, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it.”I asked him, “What were you thinking? What made you ask something like that?”He said, “I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t thinking.”When I asked the guy who invited him, he said, “He just wasn’t thinking. It was no big deal.”I learned later from a female angel who was sitting next to him that he hit on her the same way before the meeting. He was thinking.This situation reminded me of similar experiences I’ve had. In all cases, the people were asked not to return. In some cases, there was a part of me which thought they might return anyway and this time they would be armed (figuratively or literally).Leading meetings which are open to the public is something we all do as leaders. I know now to be ready for it. When it happens, I will immediately ask the person to leave the meeting.
Stupid Funny vs. Grossly Weird
There is a big difference between stupid funny and grossly weird. Believe me. You will know. Your suspicion will be confirmed when you feel the room seize up. Stop the meeting and ask the person to leave.I apologized to the female CEO. She understood. I am so proud of her on how professionally she handled the situation. I learned from her. She proved herself an accomplished leader and executive.In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein news, it was shocking to experience it first hand. This experience troubled me, and I was not alone. I received a number of text messages, phone calls, and emails about the incident. The advice was always the same. Please don’t let that guy back into our meeting.
3 Steps to Eliminating the Grossly Weird
Here are the steps I am taking now to make sure this type of situation never happens again.
I must know my regular attendees. I must take the time to know them and their network. All birds of a feather meetings, like this angel meeting, contain people who can easily vet new attendees. The community is small. People know people.
New attendees can only come on the recommendation and reputation of the regular attendee. In addition, I need to interview the regular attendee on his or her guest to be sure they are qualified to be there.
Make the process of inviting people public knowledge. If someone bypasses the process, they and their guest will be asked to leave.
In talking to the director of one of the incubators in town, I learned our experience wasn’t unique. He keeps a book called “Bad Actors.” To get your name in this book, you need to do something socially weird like we experienced at the angel meeting.Sometimes the odd behavior is in a group setting, and other times it is one on one. In any case, these people immediately become persona non grata.He wisely said, “We must protect the people in our office from these predators.”
Photo by Thomas Hawk