Your Seatmate is a Life Lesson

Abundance Personal leadership


Key Point: What will you learn from the person that sits next to you? It may be any type of transportation, kind of like that iconic Planes, Trains & Automobiles movie where Steve Martin learns a wonderful life lesson from John Candy, and vice versa. The person next to you may not say a word, or you may end up in a full-blown conversation. Whatever the circumstance, the learning can be important, if not profound.

I’m flying across the country and my seatmate has two PhDs, one on Nanotechnology and the other in medicine. He also has an MBA from one of the world’s top business schools. He is a Canadian, speaks several languages and spends most of his time working on the East Coast for a leading, well-known consulting company, advising CEOs. And just to make it clear that he is gifted in unreasonable ways, he is still in his 30s. Geez. To make him more annoying in the best way, he is one of the most polite, humble people and very centered by a loving extended family. Clearly I’m the “John Candy” in this scenario.

So in asking many questions and learning as much (not letting the poor guy eat his dinner), this is a quick summary of lessons learned from in our short visit:

1. The 2×5 system:

In his organization, after every meeting, engagement, presentation, etc., the people involved follow the 2×5 learning process. It is a mandatory process for 10,000 plus people. Employees are asked to take two minutes to reflect and five minutes to give specific feedback on what could be improved after every process. Direct, frank, and specific comments aimed at continuous learning is a fundamental process to drive better results and client value.

2. The CEO elevator challenge:

Because this consulting company is fully dependent on getting to value as quickly as possible, people are challenged with the following: If you meet a CEO in an elevator, in the 30 second ride up, you have to get their business card. How would you do that? They realize, as good as their research, modeling, analysis, etc. is, it’s ultimately about connecting value within personal relationships.

3. The “help others help you” concept:

Listening is such a vital part of great leadership. However, sometimes we spend more time trying to convince others to do things that they resist and/or have a hard time buying into. When we step back and ask ourselves how their resistance or concerns might actually help us, it changes the way we frame up “resistance.” For example, if people are concerned that we have too many initiatives underway, instead of trying to convince them that we don’t, we might be better served by embracing the feeling of “too much” and building from there.

Character Moves:

  1. Learn from every seatmate, even though you may never exchange a word. If you do have a conversation, will you take something away from it?
  2. Apply the 2×5 method wherever you can. Even if you’re not the formal boss, reflecting for two minutes and then spending five minutes determining what went well, what was challenging, and what could have been better, will reinforce constant learning.
  3. The 30-second elevator ride is about personal connection. What skills do you have to make rapid, yet meaningful connections? Hint: It involves presence, a smile and a question or two. Try the elevator rule with anyone. Can you make a connection that will lead to another more meaningful discussion if appropriate?
  4. Learn to embrace resistance or hurdles to help others help you. Listening with understanding is a skill that needs ongoing practice. Most times when you’re selling “product out” versus bringing “customers in,” you’re going to hit big speed bumps.

Seatmates in The Triangle,