As I was leaving the office, my boss says, don’t screw it up Mike!”
He was only half-joking.
So, there I am on the way to the airport to pick up this corporate executive guy.
Everyone knows he’s a childhood friend of our company’s CEO; rumor has it they still talk every day.
I wanted to make a good impression; I wanted him to like me.
Driving back to the office, I said, “how was your flight?”
He said, “good.”
I said, “that’s good.”
And that was the last time we talked on the entire ride.
Sitting at my desk, I realized, “I’ve never met anyone on his level before.”
My mom was a secretary and my dad customer service.
This guy, this corporate executive, is on his Country Club’s Polo Team.
You know the thing with horses?
I wondered, “What do I have in common with him?”
Then I started beating myself up because I let my nerves and fear keep me from seizing an opportunity.
Later that day, I was sitting with friends in the cafeteria, and I saw him walk in.
In a sea of lunch tables, he walked toward mine.
I’m thinking; I hope he doesn’t sit here.
Then he plops down right next to me and says, “I hear you train dogs.”
I said, “yea, I love dogs.”
He started talking about his female Dalmatian Eddie.
He was passionate.
I remember thinking, “Wow, it’s like I’m talking to a friend.”
I even joked around a little, and so did he.
The whole thing only lasted 15 minutes, but in that time, we formed a bond, kind of a friendship that lasted until he retired.
The next day I was daydreaming and thinking how lucky it was that he heard about me training dogs.
If someone didn’t tell him about dogs and me, I would have never formed that relationship.
I wondered, can I use the same strategy with others higher ups?
That’s when I realized, “they don’t get all love dogs.”
Then I thought, “I got it.”
“I’m going to know enough about what a person above me likes and or cares about, that I could get them to talk for 10-15 minutes.”
I’ll admit some people were "uncrackable" or jerks.
But they were the exception.
Doing that small thing unquestionably helped my career.
Years later, after a below average employee engagement survey score, I decided I needed to get to know my people better.
In random encounters, I would bring up something that they told me they liked doing as a hobby, or something about their family they were passionate about.
You know what’s crazy?
It always blew people’s minds when I asked them about their grandchildren by name or some other detail that they told me about in another conversations.
It was like I was managing on a whole new level.
It’s really cool.