On my lunch break, I took the only open seat at a small three-person table. After quick greetings the two ladies already seated continued their conversation. Since we sat so closely I couldn't help but overhear.
At first I felt awkward; it's no fun trying to pretend you're not listening when you can't help but overhear. But they immediately noticed my discomfort and smiled and nodded at me to make me feel included.
So I listened.
And was fascinated.
They talked about how they felt a huge responsibility to their employees, not just financially but also in terms of training, development, and personal fulfillment. They talked about how a contract may start a business relationship but ensuring both parties succeed is the only way to keep a business relationship from ending all too soon.
Most of all, they talked about themselves--but in an unusual way.
"I feel like I'm failing one of my managers," one said. "He does a good job, but the way he does it is so different from how I would. So I wind up critiquing his 'style' instead of just focusing on the results he gets."
"I know exactly what you mean," the other said. "But I have the opposite problem. I have an employee I know has potential... but I don't know how to reach him. No matter how hard I try I can't find a way to see things from his perspective. It's like we're constantly butting heads."
"Will you have to let him go?"
"I should, but I just can't do it," she answered. "At least not yet. How do I fire someone when I think it's my fault they don't perform well?"
Their conversation continued. They talked about how they felt guilty they weren't better developing their employees, but resources are just too tight. They talked about how they felt guilty for not spending more time with certain members of their staffs, yet the need to fight fires always gets in the way. They talked about constantly trying to balance business with family, and how, no matter what they did, they could never escape feeling they were letting both down.
To say I was stunned is an understatement. It was clear these two women had just met, yet here they were admitting to weaknesses not in a faux self-deprecating way but openly and honestly.
How many people do you know that readily admit to falling short where leadership and professional relationships are concerned? And when someone does, how many people respond thoughtfully, compassionately, and without judgment?
Matters of utility tend to dominate our business discussions. We talk, especially with people we don't know particularly well, almost exclusively about strategies and technologies, metrics and analytics, big data and big ideas.
Practicality is everything--in not only our public conversations but often also in our private thoughts.
My lunch companions appreciated a different kind of discussion. They clearly felt the fundamentals of business are found not in data, or strategy, or finance but in the emotions, the experiences, the skills and faults and strengths and weaknesses of people.
Business, to them, was all about leading, following, and working with people, something that is all too easy to forget.
Hats off to them.
And hats off to all of you who work so hard to make the lives of other people better--since, after all, that's what successful entrepreneurs do best.