Translated from the original, written in Czech by Jana Chaloupková
How many times a day do we use words such as 'energy', 'joy', 'hope'?
How many times do we use these words without attaching deeper meaning to them? How many times do we use them with an element of pathos...and often in doing so make our friends raise their eyebrows?
This story is about these words. About their fulfillment and real meaning. For me, naturally, but maybe also for others.
It all started innocently, through an everyday work experience. My team had to prepare and deliver a one-day training session, as part of a large conference in Kazakhstan. The main speaker was David Lambert, author of Smarter Selling, and one of the spiritual fathers of the training we deliver. David lives in Hong Kong, so initial preparations were by phone, with us all arriving in Almaty only two days before the event.
On the Sunday morning we arranged to meet for breakfast. David was there first, and was sitting at a table, when he waved us over. If he had not done so, we would have passed by him without noticing that he was there. That's how much his look had changed since our last meeting. He stood up to shake my hand, and I reacted with some hesitation, while desperately searching for some appropriate words to say.
His loose figure, sunken eyes, and the close cut of his remaining hair, made me think that someone else was standing in front of me. David smiled, and in his well-mannered, slightly shy way, said: “It seems you didn't recognized me. Well, I have changed my style a bit.”
I managed to nod politely, and he asked me about my flight. His voice had not changed.
It was a link between the current and the former David. A voice full of energy and interest. The voice that I have known so well.
We sat down at the table, and David got straight to the point. "Yes, I have a tumour", he said in opening, which allowed us to say how terrible it was and how sorry we were. He explained that he’d had chemotherapy, and his appearance was a symptom of this treatment, not the disease. He spoke very openly about his illness and its treatment, as well as how explaining with a smile how his elderly mother had flown over half way around the world to take care of him with his wife and, as it turned out, he had taken care of her.
As soon as we had come to terms with the initial shock, we began to think how we could help him. We gave him suggestions...'do you need more rest?'...'should we adjust the program?'...'do you really want to be the main speaker?'
He listened carefully, looked at us, and said in his clear, decisive voice: ‘I know what my limitations are, what I can, and what I cannot do. I will not do more than I can. Everything is as it should be. You do not have to worry about me, I'll say if I need anything.’
In those words, I saw so much humility. But there was also responsibility. Responsibility towards himself and towards us. Those words eased the burden of the illness a little.
And yet, it took some time to realize he was right. From time to time we studied his level of tiredness. We asked far too often if he needed anything. He did not. He was not tired. He would tell us if he needed anything.
The day before the event, we spent the full day preparing. We had to plan, minute by minute, how the event would run. When it was right to do activities, what role would each of us have? How much time should we spend on the theory, how many activities should we do? How should we monitor the flow of the training, and when should the breaks be? How do we communicate amongst ourselves, who should keep time and, importantly, what should we do if participants are not engaged?
The day was passing quickly, and David was getting into his stride. If anyone was tired, it was us. Around 5pm, he suggested a well-earned break. A break was definitely needed, but not for him. For us!
The training program began as planned. The auditorium was filled with 120 people. A few laggards, with a subtle nod to the stage, apologized for being late. And David shone. Thanks to his dark glasses, his fallen eyes could not be seen. His voice, his vigorous movements, energized the whole room. Everyone listened intently. His words had weight, inspiring the group, with his examples demonstrating clearly the benefits of following the IoweUTM approaches.
During the first activity, most participants were fully engaged. They wanted to present their findings to others; they wanted to show that they have remembered the most from David's ideas. The atmosphere in the hall changed from pleasant to amazing.
And David continued in his stride. The training was not only about transferring knowledge. David gave a huge part of himself. During breaks, he talked to people, wanted to hear their opinions, and watched closely their mood, looking for any signs of doubt. While chatting with them, he quickly found those who were skeptical about his innovative approach.
We worked in parallel with him, talked to people as well, and monitored their feelings and thoughts. But I had expected David to take a rest. He did not, he was so energized, he hardly sat down throughout the whole conference.
During one of the breaks we agreed that we needed to work more with one of the groups. David immediately took action. He choose the key person from that group, and asked him to do one of the activities. Live, on the stage. The effect was immediate, everyone listened closely, and everyone watched what was going on.
At the end of this, the selected person called for a microphone. ‘I did not believe this method could work. Now I see that I was wrong. I can see for myself that it is effective,’ he said. David accepted his words with a humble smile. David's authenticity can excite, his humility disarm.
The day ended, the hall was being cleaned, and people were starting to leave. Several stopped to share some last thoughts with David. Not one of them knew of his illness.
‘I feel strange, as if we were using you.’ I said, as soon as we entered the lounge for the final recap of the day. ‘You've been giving out energy all day. You must to be exhausted.’
‘You might think that I'm irresponsible,’ he smiled back at me. ‘If I had collapsed on stage, it would have be a real disaster!’
I knew it would not have happened. I knew he would have asked, if he had needed any additional breaks. David just could not collapse. Yes, he was displaying real energy. But to the same extent, he was absorbing it. From people, from the atmosphere in the hall, and from the work itself. He loves what he does. He enjoys it, the work giving him meaning. It gives him the power to live. Just as he gives the power to live to others.
In the book by Irvin Yalom Staring at the Sun you can read that how our individual ideas, and the small things that we do, can make small waves. Those waves pass to others...both in their minds and their hearts, and stay there forever. On that special day in June, David made small waves, and in doing so he started a tsunami.
Jana Chaloupková is a senior consultant with Prague-based Management Consultants, Conectio and is a certified affiliate for Smarter Selling.
David Lambert is the co-author of Smarter Selling and a founder of engage-universe.com, a learning portal dedicated to spreading the approaches detailed in the Smarter Selling book.