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I dropped my phone down an elevator shaft

Lessons in life, leadership and human potential

Actual elevator shaft where the phone was dropped...

The iPhone hit the floor of the elevator, bouncing twice before it slid into the opening of the shaft between the elevator and the floor and quickly fell in. As it bounced, the wallet latch popped open, kicking out a credit card. My friend recounted the story, describing how she lunged for the phone and exclaimed “Noooooooooooooooooooooooo” as it moved just out of her reach and fell into the tiny gap. As she heard it hit the basement ground, three floors below, her stomach sank. Because she realized her driver’s license was still in the wallet. Like most of us, her entire life was in that phone. Addresses, pictures, notes, text messages – it was her external brain. Now it was completely out of reach, possibly for good.

She pinged the phone with her apple watch and was relieved to see it was still working. She stood in the elevator doors frozen, trying to figure out her options. She went to the front desk of the building to talk to the security guard. She knew Richard because she stopped to talk to him each day. In fact, she talks to everyone. She is the type of person who knows each person’s name, their favorite food, the name of the children and pets and when and where their next vacation is planned.

She tells Richard what happens and asks the options for retrieving her phone. The good news is that it could be retrieved. The bad news is that it would be expensive. The building would have to put in a service call for the elevator, shut the elevators down and have someone climb down into the shaft to retrieve the phone. My friend told Richard to get a price quote – and if it was going to cost her anything under $200 to do it. Otherwise, she would go through the painstaking process of getting replacement IDs and phone. Thirty minutes later, Richard called her with good news. It was time for the elevators to have their annual inspection. He realized he could call in the annual inspection that day, and in the process, help retrieve my friend’s phone. Not only was her phone recovered, thanks to Richard’s influence, it didn’t cost her anything.

The CEO of Charles Schwab recently shared a story in the New York Times about the biggest lesson of his career. It came from a final exam in college. After maintaining a perfect 4.0 grade point average throughout his time in university, Walter Bettinger had one final exam left in a business class. He spent hours preparing for the exam memorizing formulas and preparing for calculations. When he got to the exam, the teacher handed out a single sheet of paper. He told the students to turn the paper over – and they realized both sides were blank. The professor said “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: what’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”

Walter Bettinger said “That had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed and I got the ‘B’ I deserved. Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.

My friend knows all the Dottie’s in her life. Not because she wanted something from them. But because she genuinely wants to know people and wants them to know she sees them. One of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is to connect with those around you and give them time. A mistake I often see is people getting so busy with day-to-day demands that they don’t do this. They think they don’t have time. Or they think that the time should go to someone they know will be able to directly help them in some way. The best leaders realize everyone has something to offer, and by making connection you can realize what it is.

Do you know the Dottie’s in your life? How can you make it a habit to get to know the people around you, even those that you may not work directly with but pass in the hallway or lobby?

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