I worked for a money management firm and with the continuous market fluctuations everyone was worried about losing their jobs. There was tension and you could feel it the moment you through the glass doors. Our CEO had major business decisions that could bring success or challenges to the company and his staff. I’ll call my CEO, Smith for the purpose of my story. Over twenty years ago, Smith and his associates created the company and he was the remaining founding officer.
Most mornings, I would see him and ask, “How are you, Smith?”
The answer was always, “I’m fine, Naomi, thanks for asking.”
One day, I was standing at reception with my tea chatting with my friend and Smith came through the glass doors. I didn’t recognize him. He was no longer standing tall. His body language suggested that he was not in good health. All of the stress was taking a toll on his life source.
“How are you, Smith?” I asked knowing the answer was ‘not good’ or ‘crappy’.
Yet, he gave his standard answer, “I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”
I knew in my heart I had to do something different. He is human after all and I didn’t know him personally. There had to be something I could do to lift his spirit in that moment. Before he went through the next door I yelled, “Hey Smith!!!” and I did it!!
I stuck my tongue out at my CEO!!
Yes, I did and I didn’t hold back. I even made funny sounds that went along with it.
He was shocked and didn’t really get it right away. Then it hit him, he started to laugh so hard that he almost fell over. Of course I started to laugh. I don't just laugh I snort like a pig. So the receptionist, the CEO and I were laughing. It was magnificent. His posture changed and he said, “Thanks, I needed that.”
“Any time, Smith, any time! I can also make faces,” was my response. I then proceeded to share my favourite childhood faces and we continued to laugh.
That changed my relationship with Smith. He no longer said he was fine. He would see me in the office and stick his tongue out at me. The other employees couldn’t believe it. He stopped by my desk for a laugh which he never did before. He called me ‘Kido’ and we built a friendship of mutual understanding. We discussed life and shared stories of our love ones. We became very relaxed and playful around each other.
During the summer Smith’s 18 years old son started to work at our company which I only spoken to him a few times. I’ll call him Smith Jr. What does a 30 something year old woman have in common with an 18 years old?
Smith’s health continued to suffer. Unfortunately, my life’s situation was not going well and I left the office for over 8 months. When I returned I stopped by Smith’s office, I learned that he was in and out of the office because of his illness. He showed such strength but deep down was having a difficult time.
He didn’t know what happened to me during the past 8 months. But, he did notice that no one dared to stick their tongues out at him. So, of course I continued.
Months later, there was a celebration for his 25th year of service with the company. I sat close as he gave his speech. This is some of what I remembered and I’m paraphrasing, ‘I am the luckiest man alive. I am able to do what I love and I work with the most amazing people every day that are as passionate as I am. Always follow and live your dreams.’
Smith’s courage and devotional heart truly shined. He influenced my life deeply. He stopped working shortly afterwards and remained at home until the end of his life. I found out that he was battling pancreatic cancer.
The following summer, Smith Jr. returned to the office. I stopped by his desk and shared my admiration for his father. I explained how grateful I was to know his father and how Smith was very proud of him.
Smith Jr. said, “my father told me about your special relationship. Dad wished that I could have the same relationship with you.” That touched my heart and from that day forward I stuck my tongue out at Smith Jr.
So don’t be afraid to be in the moment: stick your tongue out at your CEO!