When I first started work at Coca-Cola Enterprises, I read an article about the culture, the people, and the history of the company. One of the key figures profiled was Don Keough who had served as President and COO of the Coca-Cola Company. He was instrumental in the establishment of Coca-Cola Enterprises and was a leader on numerous philanthropic and educational boards. It was obvious that he was investing in people within the business and in the community. A colleague of mine suggested that I reach out to him as I was interested in not only knowing more about the business, but also how he was able to effectively balance his leadership in the business with engagement in personal and philanthropic endeavors. I wrote him a note and within two weeks his assistant called me to schedule a meeting. I asked. He accepted. We decided to meet at his Atlanta office and, I must say, I was relatively unprepared for the meeting. While I had done my homework on Mr. Keough, I really did not grasp the enormity of his knowledge, relationships, and general presence. At the same time, perhaps that is what made the meeting so special.
Upon entering his office, I was greeted by numerous photos and memorabilia featuring Mr. Keough with some of the world's best known leaders. On his desk sat my handwritten note, several enclosures I had sent, and a few notes he had scribbled together. He asked, "Tell me again, why are you here?" Without hesitation, I outlined a number of business questions I had prepared prior to our meeting. I also asked him about his career path and any lessons learned he could share with me based on my career stage, role, and background. That opened the door and the conversation progressed. He appreciated my openness and interest in learning. He provided insights on how the Coca-Cola System was organized and he shared his life lessons from time on the leadership team at Coca-Cola and as a board member. It was a great conversation - and I took copious notes.
My first lesson was that busy people can always make time for discussions and meetings that they deem important. Mr. Keough had a full calendar, yet he made time to fit me into his schedule (see earlier chapters for references on the "Do For One" concept - this was certainly an example). My second lesson was that I validated the value of asking great questions. I am naturally inquisitive and truly enjoyed asking him as many questions as I could fit into the brief time we had together. He did the talking - which was my intent. And I listened and learned. Lastly, he gave me several great pointers to consider in navigating the intricacies of a large global organization.
BRINGING IT TO LIFE
◙ Just Ask: If I had never written the note, I would never have gotten the meeting. If I had never made an effort, no effort would have been offered in return. If you don't ask for the meeting, the discussion, the conversation or the conference call, you will never get it. Are you asking?
◙ Develop The Art Of Asking Extraordinary Questions: Not only from this meeting, but from my interactions with other peers, colleagues, and executives, I have learned the value of asking great questions. Asking questions is good. Asking insightful, meaningful, inquisitive, and interesting questions is extraordinary. This is more art than skill. A question asked without emotion may generate a response devoid of emotion. But great questions, asked with great interest, empathy, and appreciation, can generate extraordinary conversation and knowledge transfer. Asking questions is an alternative method of engaging and participating in dialogue and conversation before offering an opinion or idea.
◙ Accept Every Opportunity To Speak: One piece of advice Mr. Keough offered readily was to immediately, and without question, accept, embrace, and learn from every opportunity to share knowledge, experiences, ideas, and inspirations with groups. Accept every opportunity to speak that fits within your schedule.
Bottom Line: Just Ask...The Answer Might Be "YES!"