In your life journey, you will find yourself in very tough situations--ones that come up unexpectedly and people will be looking to you for direction. Those times will be your defining moments as a leader. You will hardly have any time to plan and prepare. As a result, how you respond will be based on what’s in your heart instead of what’s in your head.
In my career, I have been in many tough situations. My most defining moment was on September 11, 2001. I was the VP of Georgia-Pacific’s Distribution Division Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. All of the regional VPs and the SVP of the division were attending an offsite planning meeting. Someone got a call about the Twin Towers attack. We ended the meeting and immediately went back to the main office that was located in the Windy Hill area of Atlanta. At least 1,000 people worked in the building. They were in shock, as was the rest of America. We let everyone leave home early for the day so that they could be with their families. Before they left, everyone gathered in one of the meeting areas. As I was walking up, I looked around the room and saw the pain and bewilderment on the faces of people of all religions, races and sexes. I then led everyone in prayer. I can’t remember everything I said, but I do remember saying this, “The terrorists have had their say, but we know who is going to have the final word, which is why we don’t have a spirit of fear!” It was amazing how everyone responded to the prayer. They smiled and hugged knowing that we were going to make it through that very difficult time.
Some 17 years later, people still remind me of that day and of that prayer. Many have said that it was that moment I went from being a VP to a leader. It reminds me of the quote: “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Your defining moments will always be when you show how much you care. Once people know you do, they will trust and follow you in the most difficult situations. So, never miss a situation to say a kind word or do a kind gesture in moments of need. People will remember it forever.