One of the most impactful meetings I have ever had happened when I was interning at Steelcase. I was a senior in college, and due to a strange series of events, I found myself sitting in a meeting room on the executive floor, waiting to meet the CEO for an introduction. Even though I was wildly nervous, our quick encounter turned out to be one of the richest learning experiences I have ever had. In about fifteen minutes he taught me more about networking and leadership than all the books I had read on the subject combined.
Here's what I learned:
1. How to introduce yourself.
The beginning of the introduction was standard procedure: a handshake and exchange of names and "nice to meet you"s, but afterward he immediately stated how he knew me and the common contact we shared. It instantly gave us something to talke about, and the conversation progressed naturally from there.
2. Give your full attention.
Being the CEO of a global organization makes you a pretty "in demand" guy. There are a million better things he could have been doing instead of talking to me. But the man didn't check his phone once. Not once. He was 100% present and tuned into our conversation. He made eye contact the entire time are really listened to me.
3. Believe in people.
I really felt like he was interested in what I did at the company and genuinely wanted to know about my career goals and dreams. Even though I was an intern, he wanted to hear about my job and got excited about the work my team was doing. It sounds silly, but he really made me feel important. He made me feel like I mattered.
4. Help others succeed.
I asked a lot of questions and he was very generous with his answers. From favorite book recommendations to his best advice for young designers, he was eager to share it all. He urged me to find a mentor and gave me the contact information of three designers he had worked with in the past who would be great people to learn from. It was an incredible gesture, and set a great example of what it looks like to help someone else succeed.
5. Follow Up.
I left feeling very supported and grateful for the opportunity to have met him, but the most memorable part of the experience came later. About a week after our introduction, his assistant emailed to tell me that he had something waiting for me at his desk. I returned to his office and found a stack of books with my name on it. Assuming he was loaning them to me, I asked when I should return them. She informed me that they were a gift and mine to keep. It was such an incredible gesture and act of generosity, I will truly never forget it. You better believe that he received a hand written thank you note later that week.
Sometimes, its the smallest gestures that make the most difference. Our meeting lasted about 15 mins total, but the impression he made on me will last a lifetime. Leading by example is a powerful thing; it its the most succinct way to communicate one's integrity. He is exactly the type of leader I hope to be one day.