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A Leadership Inspiration Story

At a workshop on service leadership with current and future civic leaders in Rockville, Maryland, I had an occasion to share a story about a great leader I've encountered in my career. This story sticks with me because of how small the gesture was but how large the impact. - jackie

Almost ten years ago, I was in a pretty scary accident on my way to work. My car was standing still, and was hit from behind by a driver going nearly 40 miles per hour. The force of the impact was so strong, my car crashed into an SUV in front of me and the air bags deployed. Immediately, I felt sharp, icy hot pains in my left shoulder and arm. A lot of things started happening in a short time. Police arrive. Give a statement. Tow trucks tow (grab the laptop before they hitch her up). Ambulance? No thanks, I say. (My arm hurts like hell… why did I decline the ambulance?) Call husband. Call insurance company. Call doctor's office. Call work.

At the time, I worked in a small office with fewer than ten other people. It was early enough that only my boss’s boss would be in. I dialed her directly to let her know that I wouldn’t make it, since I needed to get my arm checked out and insurance squared away. Boss’s boss asked, “What can we do?” I had client deliverables on my computer, I explained. They are due today. A new temp was coming in, and someone needed to orient her on the assignments. I ticked off a list of things that would need to get done in order for us to keep deadlines.

Boss’s boss patiently waited through my list, and then said, “Okay, we’ll take care of those things. But what do YOU need?” She meant me, as a person. Was I physically okay? Did I need a ride to the doctor? Was someone coming to pick me up? Was I... okay?

This is a story I tell often when I’m asked to talk about examples of great leadership. Someone like Boss’s boss is able to see her team as people first, so that when I’m in a car accident, or sick, or a parent unexpectedly passes away, they first make sure that I as a person am taken care of. To be sure, they are also likely thinking about what resources to juggle to make sure that timelines stay on track and projects are completed as planned, but they do what they can to make these things Not My Problem. Our conversation probably lasted less than five minutes, but I left it with the understanding that to my boss, I was more than just inputs into a final work product or a means to an end--I was a person. A great lesson I carry with me as I take on my own leadership challenges in the office and in my community.

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