Aron Lees has a love story you would think grew straight out of a Nicholas Sparks novel.  A few years ago Aron was the manager of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in the suburbs of Minneapolis and was in a seven-year serious relationship. One day while attending a staff meeting at BWW, a woman from corporate, Camilla, jumped into the last three minutes of his meeting.  Aron and Camilla exchanged pleasantries and shared a few words with one another.  He couldn’t take his eyes off of this beautiful blond haired woman with a Danish accent. And for the next week Aron couldn’t get her out of his mind.

His heart pounded faster every time he thought of her.  He kept saying to himself, “How could I have these feelings for a woman whom I’ve only met for three minutes!” He hoped the feelings would go away – but they didn’t.  They only grew stronger.

A week later he went to his girlfriend and came clean – remember… his girlfriend of SEVEN years.  He was honest about his feelings about Camilla and told his girlfriend she deserved to have a husband that loved her that much.  He shared that he may never see Camilla again, but he knew he wanted to pursue that kind of love.

Crazy huh?  Who in their right mind would end a seven-year relationship for a girl they’d met for only three minutes. “I just knew”, Aron kept telling me as he told his story.

Months later he ran into Camilla at a new pizza concept meeting that BWW was rolling out. Aron didn’t know if he’d ever see Camilla again so he shared with her, reluctantly, what was in his heart.  He told her he broke up with his girlfriend of seven years because of how he felt about her. They became friends on Facebook and in a short time started dating. Crazy?!?

Aron and Camilla just recently celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary.  And I know this kind of “love at first sight” does exist. I know because it happened to me.

In December, 2002 I was asked to emcee a charity event in Denver supporting the Gathering Place – a woman’s homeless shelter.  When I arrived at the event I checked in at the welcome desk and talked briefly with a beautiful girl who handed me my name badge. As I walked away and headed to the men’s room with my buddy, Joel Mauney, I said, “Do you remember the girl at the check-in desk……the girl handing out name badges?  I’m going to marry that girl!”

Jill and I will be celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary this summer.  It took her a lot longer to fall for me……but I JUST KNEW!

You’re probably wondering how the heck I’m going to turn two Nicholas Sparks love stories into a workplace learning lesson.  It’s easy…I believe “I Just Knew” experiences exist everywhere in our lives, not just in love stories.

When I first met:

  • John Ruble, Global Vice President of Marriott Vacations: it took me one cocktail reception at a company function to see that his people loved, trusted and adored him.
  • Hoyt Jones, President & COO of Jersey Mikes Subs: it took only a couple hours in a car ride to sense and feel one of the most genuine men I have ever met.
  • Cheryl Bachelder, CEO & President of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen: it took me sitting next to her at a board meeting to see that everything about her stems from her care and love for others.
  • Jimmy Blanchard, former Chairman & CEO of Synovus: I just knew I was graced with meeting one of the greatest servant leaders to ever walk on this planet.
  • Frank DeAngelis, former Principal of Columbine High School: it took me three minutes to fall in love with his heart for serving the students and staff at his school.

The list goes on and on.  I could name a hundred people I’ve met in my professional life that “I just knew” would have a profound impact on shaping my heart and my leadership style.

Most of us have love stories in our personal lives, but we all have heart-led stories in our professional lives.  Both can happen in an “I just knew” second.  Both can make a tremendous impact in shaping our hearts. And both can also happen in the last three minutes at a Buffalo Wild Wings staff meeting.