In a previous life,  I worked as a corporate trainer for a large company. I was young and brash and ready to take on the world. I wanted to move mountains and shake things up in a way that only a 22-year-old can. Luckily, I had a boss named Mike Nave.

Mike is the only boss I’ve ever had that I considered a true mentor. He taught me how to manage people – how to get them involved – how to talk to and empower them to get a job done and done well. On a regular basis, Mike would call me into his office and shut the door behind me, and there was always sage advice and great discussion that followed.

I remember clearly one time in particular that Mike started our closed-door discussion with these words, “Andy, I don’t know if you’re going to get me fired or promoted, but I like the excitement.”

Mike always had great advice, but the one piece of advice he gave me has stuck with me over the years.  He asked me if I judged people when I first met them. I know I looked confused, because he asked me in a different way.  He asked, “When you meet someone the first time, do you compare yourself to them and make a judgement as to whether you are smarter, stronger, or better at something than they are?”

It was a question that smacked me in the face, because I HAD been doing just that.  I had summed up a person’s worth in the first five minutes of meeting them, and I’m pretty sure my face said yes, but my mouth said nothing.

Mike went on to tell me about what I would miss out on in life if I continued this bad habit. He told me that I would skip over incredibly valuable people – that I would miss out on some special folks – and that I would never learn from the very people who could probably teach me the most in this life.

Since that day, I have tried very hard to avoid judging the value of a person in the first meeting. Instead, I try to listen with open ears and share what I can, and you know what? Mike was right. I have benefited greatly from it.

I hadn’t seen Mike in more than 10 years, but last February, when I was at WPPI in Las Vegas, Mike made a point to take time out of his busy day and find my design|house booth at the Tradeshow.  It was the pride in his eyes that said it all, and I had tears of joy in my eyes when I hugged him.

Mike and I only got a few minutes before I had to return to the booth and keep at it, but next year, Mike – I’m calling in advance, and we’re going to dinner while I’m in town.