I just hung up from an unexpected phone call from a past CEO and President that I worked with for about 18 years. For a good portion of those 18 years, he was also my boss. I loved working for him because he was not only smart and strategic, but he was always willing to listen when I shared my thoughts about the brand’s culture and how we might improve it, and in some cases, be careful not to damage it. He didn’t always love what I had to say, but he knew it was coming from a good place so he would hear me out, then take my thoughts into consideration. In every situation, I would see my input incorporated.
I used to joke with him and say I have a “Three Times” rule. Which meant, I’m going to slip my opinion into the conversation at least three times to ensure I’ve been heard; after the third time, I’ll shut up. I’m sure there were plenty of times he wished I had stopped at two, but he always understood my need to speak up on behalf of those who didn’t have the opportunity or maybe the confidence to speak so candidly. We had a great partnership and that honesty helped us work together to create a remarkable culture.
We haven’t worked together for a few years now, but this man who is extremely busy running a couple of businesses, took time out of his afternoon, to pick up the phone and ask me how my kids were doing, how my recent speech had gone, how my business was coming along and then offered great advice and connected me with other leaders he thought I should know.
This genuine act of kindness and respect meant the world to me, but it also reminded me that a truly great leader understands that culture and connection are not built with grand gestures, they’re built-in simple moments and in supportive conversations – all of which he demonstrated in those 18 years. Today he demonstrated that he still cared, and he had nothing to gain but a life-long friend.
So, if you’re a leader who cares about your company culture and the people who work with you, don’t stop at posters, perks, and parties. Pick up the phone, take time to check-in, connect, and show you care, because one day when the fancy title and the power given by an org structure are stripped away, what’s left are the relationships you’ve built, the impact you’ve made and the legacy you’ve left behind.