One late afternoon, a young woman on my team stopped by the office and asked if she could talk. As she sat down across from my desk I immediately sensed that she was hurting. Her eyes were red and wet with ready tears as she held her notebook in a death grip, hands trembling. I braced myself for a difficult conversation and my imagination began to run wild with various imaginary disasters.
Resisting the urge to start the conversation with the obligatory, “what’s wrong?”, I asked her to relax her body and take a deep breath while I did the same.
With this small, calming ritual behind us, I looked her in the eyes and spoke these words,“Whatever this is about, remember, I am for you.” These words were not rehearsed, they just appeared in my mind as the words she needed, so I spoke them.
At that moment, I felt that what she needed from her leader was to know that whatever the issue, even if it meant a difficult conversation, I was there to serve her and help her succeed.
She poured out the frustration and fear she felt after a particularly difficult meeting where a project she had labored over for weeks was dismissed in cynical fashion by a senior executive in the organization who had a reputation for arrogant behavior.
While the treatment she received was far from appropriate, there were lessons to be learned in how she prepared for the audience and presented her proposal, especially knowing that this individual would be in the room.
We worked through the experience together, what it meant, how it made her feel and how she might put it to use to learn and grow. She was eventually able to turn the situation around and move the project forward.
I had the honor of mentoring her for as long as I remained in the organization. Her development was a joy to watch and she became a great encouragement to me during the time we worked together.
I believe the door to my influence was opened by these three words…
“I’m for You”.
Words have tremendous power. In particular when they come from someone we respect, admire or who is in a position of authority. Successful parents, teachers, and leaders of all types recognize the importance of instilling belief and confidence in the people under their care.
The memory of this event got me thinking about other phrases that can help us make inspiring and influential connections.
I’m with You. – You aren’t alone.
I know this is hard and I am here to support you.
I need You. – You are valuable.
I know this will be better with your help.
I trust You. – You are capable.
I know you can handle this important responsibility.
I appreciate You. – You are unique.
I am grateful for who you are and the work you do.
For all of the complexities of leadership with its strategies, decisions, problems, and politics it always comes down to people. When we speak these simple and sincere words into the lives of others we invest in the true purpose of leadership.
“If you’re a leader, your whole reason for living is to help human beings develop—to really develop people and make work a place that’s energetic and exciting and a growth opportunity, whether you’re running a Housekeeping Department or Google.” – Tom Peters
You may have seen this video before, but I share it here again as a great reminder of the power of words.