There is a coffee cup in my kitchen cabinet that I got on a business trip to Korea in the late 1990s.
It’s not attractive, but I’ve kept it all these years because Mark Dailey gave it to me.
The mug is from an Irish-themed bar called O’Kim’s that was in the basement of the Westin Hotel in Seoul. Mark had taken a group of us there for drinks.
Mark was running Asia for Bloomberg at the time and we all considered him a big wheel.
I made an offhand comment about liking the mugs and without hesitating Mark waved down the server and ordered one for me to take home as a souvenir.
I was a bit surprised. I didn’t expect him to buy me the mug. I didn’t need it. But I loved it!
It took me a few years to appreciate that moment and its significance.
It wasn’t about the mug. Mark’s purchase conveyed that he was listening. It gave him a chance to connect with a more junior person. It cost about $5 and I still remember it 25 years later.
I doubt Mark recalls that spur-of-the moment decision. It’s the kind of gesture strong managers make instinctually.
One of the management lessons I took away from three decades in corporate America was how small acts that make people feel heard can be ridicuously inspirational.
That mug was more memorable than scores of meetings or conversations.
Years later a person who reported to me complained she was having a tough week. She said she felt like she was in a foxhole being shelled. She joked that she needed a helmet.
After we spoke, I went on the Internet and ordered her an Army helmet and sent it to her with a note thanking her for her service. She thought it was funny.
It was funny. But it also made the point that I had heard her.
Sending a helmet was more effective than booking a one-on-one meeting to get feedback.
It was more tangible and more memorable.
Meetings come and go.
Helmets and mugs are forever.
(Part of a series of posts about lessons I learned from three decades at Bloomberg LP)