Aren’t we all inspired by those who, despite their own suffering and circumstances, show grace and gratitude?
Last week, I was in Charleston, SC, and walked in the early morning before sunrise across a park to the Starbucks that was kitty-corner from the hotel. It was a promising Spring morning, though eerily quiet.
Starbucks had one customer at a table, already absorbed in his laptop. I was second in line behind the only other person in the store.
The barista asked the man in front of me what he would like. I noticed he appeared homeless. He said he had no money, but could he have a cup of hot water. The barista, with a bright smile said, “Of course! What size would you like?” He answered, “small.” I then asked if he would rather have a cup of coffee, and could I buy it for him. He was immediately appreciative and still asked for a small cup. I then asked him to pick out something to eat from the display and he pointed to the hot bacon and egg sandwich. I added that to my order.
As we stood together, waiting for our orders to arrive at the end of the counter, we smiled at each other. I asked for his name, and he said, “Richard.” I replied, “Richard, I am happy to meet you (shaking his hand). My name is Carol.” The order quickly arrived and I helped him stir the 5 sugars into his cup. He took his first sip and the look of joy on his face will forever be etched on my mind. He let out an audible “Aaah, that is soooo good. Thank you, Miss Carol.” We walked out of Starbucks together, and I put some additional money in his hand and wished him a good day.
Richard’s joy was likely due to a cup of hot coffee, but I am willing to bet that in that moment, he felt “seen.” Not passed by on a sidewalk with avoidance to make eye contact, but rather, the acknowledgement that he counts.
Isn’t good leadership the same? Taking a moment to really “see” someone? Not as “the EA,” not as “the marketing director,” not as “the cafeteria worker,” and yes, not as “the CEO,” when we look up. It’s looking at the person inside the person and trying to understand where that person is, and as leaders, meeting them in that place where they are. It’s hard to take people on a journey, make a change in the organization, or give them a reason to go with you if you don’t know where you are starting from. Leadership starts with the leader: but it is never about the leader.
As good people, we can make a seemingly small gesture which will make a difference for the other person. As leaders, it often takes only one word or a small phrase of pointing out potential, such as, “Wow Joe, I see you as a future VP.”
I had a chance to make Richard smile, to know his day started off a bit better than any other day. I had a chance to silently “thank” the Starbucks barista for treating Richard with respect: respect all humans deserve. And, I had a chance to be inspired the entire day by someone’s gratitude for life, in spite of their daily challenges.
If you are reading this, you likely have $10 to buy a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich for someone standing outside the neighborhood café, the local coffee shop, or Starbucks. More importantly, you have the opportunity to take a moment to “see” someone and then point out the potential of who they can be.
About the Author
Carol Seymour: Global Executive, Speaker, Author and Founder of Signature Leaders
Carol Seymour is a sought-after business leader and seasoned global executive of large and mid-cap size companies and private-equity backed turnarounds. She founded Signature Leaders in 2013 which focuses on accelerating women into next level leadership and helping leaders create greater impact and influence. Signature Leaders was recognized last year as one of Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing Private Companies”.
The Signature series of leadership offerings support the growth of women from Manager level up to and including C-suite executives. Today, more than 3000 global leaders across 6 continents have experienced a Signature program. Signature Leaders partners with more than 140 market-leading companies for their selective investments.
Carol is also a Founding Member of Paradigm for Parity and named one of the Top 40 Women Keynote Speakers for 2020 by RealLeaders Magazine.
Carol resides in Cashiers, NC. She has two married children, three granddaughters, and a grandson.