Over the course of a global executive career, I have been fortunate to stay in some of the world’s leading hotels. Invariably, there is someone new that I am scheduled to meet; usually a prospective customer or a business partner to be won over.
I subscribe to an old-fashioned approach when it comes to conducting business. Rather than just jump right into the deal, I prefer to become better acquainted with the person who will soon be across the table from me. It makes the negotiation process easier, but more importantly, I care about that person as a human being. I love learning who they are, what their dreams and aspirations might be, and what gem of experience they might be willing to share with me!
Working with someone you have not met, creativity is essential when it comes to that first meeting. Typically I find myself in major cities, where I am clueless as to trendy restaurants or quieter places to begin the business courtship dance. Over the years, it has become convenient to orchestrate that first meeting, those first impressions that are always critical, in the lobby of the hotel where I am staying.
I find myself giving an obscure description of my appearance; six-foot four-inches tall, glasses, moustache, dark suit, gold-colored tie, carrying the Pulitzer Prize in his right hand! Okay, scratch that last descriptive item; I can always dream right? My counterpart will then share a vague picture of what they look like and what they will be wearing.
There is a certain thrill to the moment when the two of you are about to meet. You enter the bustling lobby, only to find that everybody is dressed in a charcoal gray suit and they all resemble the description you were hastily given over the phone. It is almost like being on a photo safari, seeking that elusive prey who will grace the empty spot over the fireplace in your den, even if only in photographic form!
You scan the expanse of the plush lobby, hoping to lock eyes with your newfound business friend. Then you see them! They are looking around in circles, sharing the same confused and eager face that you do. Cautiously, you approach each other; uttering one another’s name in shared chorus. The two of you steal away to a quiet seating area and the time-honored tradition of human connection begins anew.
Having finally secured a senior executive position, after entirely too much time on the career bench; my leisure time has evolved from a common commodity to a valued treasure. Some of my favorite pursuits, such as writing, now compete for any free time I may have on my hands. One area that has become non-negotiable however, is the ritual of the daily morning walk with my trusted hound.
Our mornings start off much earlier than they used to. In fact, this time of year we find ourselves sleepily stumbling through the early morning while it is still pitch dark. It is cold, you have to watch where you step, but the celestial star show above makes it all worthwhile! The nighttime skies have always reminded me of the splendor that surround us, and the vastness of space always reminds me of our potential insignificance. In short, it all helps keep me humble.
One of my dog Xena’s habitual walking route takes us past a post office building. This facility includes a 24-hour lobby where you can conduct all of your mailing requirements through an ATM-like machine. The coldness of this electronic box is no different from the indifference postal clerks show you in person; so I have never had a problem with the idea of an automated attendant.
One especially frigid morning, my hound and I were both enjoying the exhilaration that comes with frost forming on your moustache. I glanced over at the well-lit postal lobby to find two older men sitting up against a wall in the corner. It was obvious that the pair were homeless and had sought refuge amongst the banks of post office boxes. I was surprised that they had not been removed by the local police or federal security. I sighed to myself, imagining our government opening all of its facilities to the homeless every night. No, it makes more sense to fund a study of snail mating habits than it does to care for our least fortunate citizens!
The post office lobby was a stark contrast to the lobbies of the hotels where I have stayed. Unshowered and unshaved men took the place of sharp businessmen in Armani suits. Huddling together for warmth replaced cocktails shared next to the fireplace. Simple survival trumped multimillion dollar deals.
Lobbies are a crossroads in our lives. We meet new associates and rekindle friendships while surrounded by plush furnishings. Fortunes are made over drinks and families gather before rushing off to festivities. New romances are spawned as blind date participants embrace. Adventure and untold journeys are launched by the check-in desk.
At the same time, it has become painfully evident to me that lobbies can also be a sanctuary for those in despair. At the bottom of our lives, clinging onto the last vestiges of hope, a lobby can become our only lifeline. These common areas pay witness to the best and the worst of humanity. The enigma is that any of us could find ourselves in either type of lobby at any point of our lives.
Are you willing to care as much for the human being in the post office lobby as you are the one in the hotel lobby? Will you show the same kindness to the person in the ragged boots as the one in the Spanish leather shoes? Will you embrace a downtrodden stranger as tightly as someone who will make your company millions? Do we all share one common gathering place where we can connect with all of humanity?
As for my position, “you can meet me in the lobby!”