While I kill time here, I keep remembering something a CEO told me a couple weeks back. He gave me a few words of encouragement that I'll never forget.
I'm not going to name the CEO or his company, because he was speaking to me casually, off the record. I meet a lot of CEOs, and I know it's popular to distrust and dislike them. My job is to ask questions shareholders want asked, not kiss up and be friends. Still, I've found most (though not all) chief executives to be pleasant, hard working folks.
I met this particular CEO for the first time shortly before I was to interview him on live television. His company has struggled, and the management hopes it's turned a corner. As we introduced ourselves to each other off camera, he said the first time he saw me on television, I was wearing a witch's hat. That made him stop and watch (note to aspiring reporters—if you want to be watched, don't forget the visual aspect of this business). He'd continued watching through the years, and two weeks before we met, he told his wife, "I'd like to meet her, she doesn't take herself seriously."
Naturally, I was flattered. And suspicious. "Oh, you say that to all the reporters about to grill you on TV," I said, half-jokingly. "No," he answered. "In fact, I was thinking I should wait and tell you until afterwards so you wouldn't think I was trying to butter you up."
Pretty smooth. Still, it was very nice to hear. We did the interview, I asked the same questions with the same tone regardless of his compliment, and when we finished, he came back over to me before leaving. Very seriously, he said, "Don't forget what I said. When you think you're not making a difference, remember that you are."
I can't tell you the impact that had. I thought to myself, "Now, this is how you lead people." With very little effort on his part and with just a few words, he made my day. His kind encouragement has stuck with me. Positive words can be just as memorable and powerful as negative ones. But the biggest lesson for me was this: why don't I give the same kind of encouragement to others? Not just loved ones and co-workers (although they need it), but waiters, grocery store clerks, strangers?
Here's to more compliments in 2011. It may be the best return on investment I'll get all year.
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