It was my first senior manager job, serving as communications director for the North Carolina-based regional office of a major telecom company. I was—no doubt—a little rough around the edges. Payton, a quintessential Southern gentleman who served as president of the region, took me under wing. It might have been because he saw some promise in me; humility reminds me that it may just have been to keep me in sight so I didn’t do any damage.
It was a common practice for him to buttonhole me with little advance notice to tell me I was going with him on a field visit, usually on the company plane since his operations covered seven states. On one of those days, we flew to a small town in Kentucky to visit a switching office – back then a dreary, windowless, cinder-block building filled with clacking machinery and spider webs of wiring.
I followed Payton down two flights of concrete steps, where he ambled over to a woman typing away on a stained keyboard at a tan metal desk filled with stacks of papers.
“Hi, my name’s Payton. What’s yours?” he smiled down at her. Startled at first, she said her name was Dolores, then glanced nervously back at the disheveled papers on the desk.
“So, whatcha doin’ there?” Payton leaned over to peer at the monitor.
“What’s that you’re puttin’ in?”
She explained that her job was to transfer all those paper records of downed lines and field repair work orders into the database.
“Do you know what happens to all that stuff you’re putting in?” She shook her head.
“Well,” Payton straightened up. “All that goes into our new trouble analysis system that tracks cable outages and trouble reports…gives us a good picture of how our equipment is holding up…which ones need replacing rather than repair…”
Doris nodded now, a bit more intrigued.
“And because of all that, we’ve been able to reduce our capital expenditures and improve reliability and customer satisfaction by about ten percent!” He smiled broadly at her, shaking her hand again with a palpable feeling of admiration. “And so YOU’RE the one who starts all that! Well, I’m so glad to have met you!”
Don’t miss passing moments
I saw Payton do that a lot over the few short years I worked with him. The encounters were rarely more than a minute or two, but they were absorbing, focused, genuine.
And – for those on the other side of that handshake – memorable.
Time after time with my clients when we explore their own “defining moments” it so often comes down to these passing moments — that could have been easily missed — where there was a single comment or interaction with someone they trusted, or came to trust. They remember it, cherish it, reflect on it, and magnify it so it becomes part of their own voice and fabric.
We have so many opportunities to influence people, to learn something from them and about them, to connect with them, to leave them feeling more worthwhile and appreciated – but it takes discipline to make the time to do it and to be totally in the moment.
It is often more in those small moments that trust is built, where empathy is seen, where confidence is forged, where purpose is discovered.