I recently met with a new client who strolled into our breakfast meeting and, without a “hello,” announced, “I carry my own cold pressed juice because I don’t trust our local water.”
She was a client I had just flown in for, so I was already in the board room. This struck me as an odd way to greet a person you’ve never met. I approached for a greeting, but it was obvious her hands were full. She glided to an empty seat and then continued, “Where are the berries and the fruit for today’s meeting?” She was not speaking to me yet but then she asked, “Have you seen anyone who is supposed to set up?”
I had not, and as a chef, this gave me an uneasy feeling.
She left the room, and another attendee walked in with a cup of cereal, an oversized bag, a laptop, and another bag hanging from the other shoulder. “Where do you want us to sit,” she asked without pausing to make eye contact with me. She struggled with her personal belongings before heaving them onto a chair of her choice.
Behind her, another entered with, “Where is the extension cord for the plug-in?”
A few minutes later the juice lady returned asking, “Where is the rest of the food“ while pressing the coffee dispenser. She followed that up with, “What’s wrong with the coffee canister?”
I felt like I was in the middle of a verbal pinball. No one had greeted anyone else in the room and we already had a small crowd.
Soon the rest of the committee arrived, and we began the meeting with an introduction to better understand this project’s roles and those who were here to participate. We asked the organization to print name cards for each place setting, but I guess they were stored with the missing berries and Danish.
After the first two introductions, it was clear most of the people in the room didn’t know each other. That’s when fate stepped in, giving me an important opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
A man walked in late. He was soaking wet from an ill-timed morning downpour, and his clothes were drenched. I slipped out of the room and gathered a large bath towel from the front desk. I dashed back, reentered, and wrapped him with the warm towel.
I wanted to set the tone for this important hospitality project meeting. I wanted to lead by example. I wanted to show these people that hospitality starts when we care for one another.
Many circumstances lead to hospitality opportunities. Service from the heart is not on a spreadsheet, strategic plan, or fancy presentation. While those are important to business, a culture of success starts with a simple smile, laugh, and action of care for others.
As kids, my mom made us write thank you notes, shake hands, and stand up when seniors entered the room. CEOs today take lessons on the art of entering a room. They learn how to work the crowd. They realize that effectively navigating interpersonal relationships is key to business deals.
As I gave an overview of the project, I reminded the team that great idea generation feeds off positive energy, and those with unique, out-of-the-box thoughts can be sensitive to other reactions. I asked them to please show an empathic approach and attentive interest in others’ ideas in a positive engaging manner. I explained how this would provide richer outcomes.
As the day went on, I learned that everyone had volunteered to be part of the project. Some voiced concerns about the number of boards they participated in and how this overwhelmed their schedules. Our meeting was about four hours and included meals, so it was a relatively short session for most. Even so, most left the meeting for extended periods announcing other scheduled appointments. When they returned, they asked for a recap of missed context so we could benefit from their valued opinions.
As the hours ticked, we learned more and more about the individuals who never showed up. Meanwhile, those at the table were feverishly texting throughout the meeting.
These actions are not specific to a region or state. But they make me wonder if we have gotten to a point where multi-tasking is a status symbol and means you have a successful productive life and that conflicting schedules mean you have a rich public image.
My reasoning for these reflections is that, after each session, the biggest challenge is scheduling another meeting. I do not often hear, “Whatever works for the rest is fine with me.”
What I’ve learned and will always practice as a General Manager and leader is that my smile and my presence are not the members’ destination but a road sign on their journey about the club. This visual recognition is simply being human. It applies to the members and the team of professionals I work with. And all of it starts with a warm welcome.