It's been an hour and I'm checking my watch. Not because I'm bored-- far from it-- but because I have been talking to a CEO of a $250M company for way too long. My internal clock tells me that I need to leave since I'm sure he has better things to do.
Except he doesn't-- at least that's how he views it. He started the interview by saying, "Yes is the answer, what is the question?"
Cameron Mitchell, the CEO I interviewed, owns 50 restaurants all over the country. 10 years ago he sold another 22 to Ruth's Hospitality Group for $92 million.
But-- spoiler alert-- we never got to those questions. Instead I learned something far more important about leadership. Here's three things that I learned from our talk, and what he can teach you:
1. Be present.
At its face, being present is obvious. In its practice, it's far more difficult. The more success you have in life, the more things there will be pulling for your attention.
"To say 'no' requires no action and no thinking," Mitchell told me. "We want to empower our associates to think and find ways to serve our guests that fulfill any reasonable request. It is our culture of "yes" that creates raving fans, and it is the difference between service and true, genuine hospitality."
Being present isn't a physical thing. It's a mindfulness thing, as Mitchell describes, and you can spot it right away. You can tell if people are distracted and they can also tell if you are. If you can't give something 100 percent, postpone a meeting until you can. If a conference call doesn't need your full attention, don't go to it.
Some of the most powerful, smart and successful people I have met all share once common trait. They will give anyone 10 minutes. They focus, they assess and they have the confidence to add something or politely leave the conversation.
Think about that for a second-- it's pure volume. Have six conversations in one hour with six different people, fully locked-in, and you will accomplish infinitely more than one conference call. We may all think that we are busy-- and we are-- but the best entrepreneurs find the time and they make it.
2. Be open to every conversation.
This gets harder and harder as your career progresses and as you find success. It's hard to tell successful people in business how they can do something better. Mitchell is acutely aware of that.
He knew I wasn't going to give him unsolicited advice on his business. But he also knew I was passionate about what I do, so he flipped the script of the conversation at the beginning and asked me about what I do.
Now we each knew enough to learn from the other, connect dots and have a productive conversation.
Not every conversation is going to yield wisdom. Not every conversation, every meeting, every chance encounter is going to be productive. But if you're not open to it being so at that time, it never will.
Being able to change, pivot and learn is the most important thing for an entrepreneur. No one business strategy works for 50 years without change. This is why you see companies ebb and flow, some grow, and some go away.
3. Be helpful whenever possible
I can't tell you how many times I was kind to someone seven years ago or one month ago and now they are in a position to help my business in some way. That was never the intent and you should never expect one-to-one payout for business karma. but this isn't just simple kindness or being Midwestern.
Being able to connect a dot for someone, introduce them to a future client, or help them grow somehow creates more value you for you as a networker and in business. It also helps you gain respect.
"When you communicate with each other openly and honestly, people respect that and get on board with your mission. I believe that 95 percent of all restaurant issues can be traced back to poor communication," said Mitchell.
But you also have to be able to deliver. So the key to being truly helpful is to offer only when you can or when you think it will create real benefit. People remember when it works and also when it doesn't, and they can tell when your offer is real or surface level.
Be present, be open, be helpful and you will live your best possible career. After 25 years, that's what Cameron Mitchell told me with his actions more so than his words.