Doug came out in the hall from the lunch buffet at the fancy hotel where we were leading a program and said, “I have to tell you something.” He had tears in his eyes. He had been tearing up already while leading this program for “Acme Manufacturing” executives. Before we met the participants, we thought they were big-dogs, but then we found out they were people. We always tear up when we start loving people, finding they are no longer strangers.
“I need to tell you something. I want you to know that I have never been so taken care of: lozenges, water, your getting the flip charts up on the wall, managing the hotel personnel. Susie wants to come talk theory on the breaks and instead of talking, you’re listening to what I need, leading from the back. I am so moved. I don’t have to be the only one watching out for my well-being. You have my back. I want all of our consultants to have this kind of support from the back of the room. I want you to write up how to do what you are doing. I want you to teach people how to look.”
I remembered Lila once saying, “I am a better program leader because of your being quiet, sitting there, tracking what is happening, being a kind of space.”
Mary, leading a retreat one weekend several years ago, said the same thing and started asking me what she should cover next as I was washing her grapes.
Happily and naturally.
I learned it from my mother. I learned it from watching her take care of my father and he her. Looking at the whole of a party. Seeing when someone’s water glass is empty. Offering another serving. Passing the bread on to the next person, not just saying no thank you and not passing it. We were taught that basic attention to others when we were six years old. Don’t just serve yourself first; serve the other first. Don’t start eating until we are all served. Hold the door. Say yes ma’am and yes sir. And no thank you. I am so glad to be here and so glad to meet you. Thank you for inviting me. We learned to say it whether we meant it or not.
I loved Doug in that moment. For giving me the distinction of service that I was blind to. I was just doing it.
A week later, at dinner, I told Gary and Laura that that was the best acknowledgement I could get– not necessarily the thank you, but noting the difference service makes and distinguishing that it works, really works, for us to take care of people, to care for people.
The Acme team went to Joe’s house for dinner and raised their glasses to each other. They stood up on the big coffee table and said who they were as leaders.
Joe went first and said, “Who I am as a leader is the possibility of trust, respect, service, learning and continuous improvement at Acme. I am responsible for the values of Acme being alive and well. Now I want to appreciate Anshu.” Then he said 10 things he loved about her, and she grinned and blushed under her brown Indian skin. Then, with a hand from Joe, Anshu got up on the coffee table and said “Who I am as a leader is a revolutionary who challenges the status quo,” and made a toast to another, who then got up. And it went on and on.
Joe’s wife turned to me and said, “I could do this all night.”
When people feel cared for, when they know someone has their back, it gives them the freedom to care–about their companies, about the people they work with, about people who don’t have to be strangers.