“Everyone is beautiful.”
— Ariana Grande
Jenny Edwards cleans and cares for the Hancock Lumber home office in Casco at night, after finishing her day job.
I work an odd collection of hours, which brings me into the office at night once or twice a week.
This is how Jenny and I met and then became friends a long time ago.
* * *
I’m six feet tall. Jenny is about five feet tall.
I’ve got a ways to go in my work career. Jenny is nearing the end of hers.
I’m the senior titled officer in the building. Jenny cleans the building.
I’ve had a lot of opportunity in my life, which I’ve tried to make good on. Jenny’s not had all the same opportunities, but she is a leader through and through.
There are a few things that make us different, but there’s a lot more that makes us the same.
* * *
Any evening when I pull into the office parking lot and see Jenny’s car there, I know what’s coming next. Somewhere near the stairway to the second floor, Jenny and I will invariably find each other. We smile, share a hug, and swap stories. Jenny always has a new story, and hers are better told than mine.
For me our periodic visits are about respect. I admire Jenny. She works all day and then comes to clean our home office at night. Lately she’s had some trouble with her eyesight and she lost one of her beloved dogs to old age, but she always finds the will to persevere.
Jenny does the kind of work that gets done when no one is watching, and she takes amazing pride in doing it right. No one claps when she finishes the bathrooms. No one cheers when she mops the floor. If you only worked during the day, you might never see her. You go home in the evening and the next day your office is clean. But it doesn’t just happen. Jenny comes and cleans it.
Often when I stop in she’ll tell me about a new cleaning supply she found that works better on this part of the office or the other. She’s always thinking about how to improve the maintenance and appearance of the building she cares for.
Jenny also sees the big picture and regularly imparts her wisdom. She thinks about our entire company, all sixteen sites and 600 people across Maine and New Hampshire. She’s proud of Hancock Lumber, and that gives me goose bumps when I stop to think about it. Jenny regularly encourages me through the handwritten Post-it notes she affixes to my desk.
Your father would be proud of you, read a recent one.
These values you’re promoting really make a difference, read another. People feel appreciated and respected here. I’ve worked places before where you don’t feel appreciated or empowered and it’s no fun. Keep it up!
I love hearing about your trips to Pine Ridge and the people there, read yet another. They’ve had it harder than we do, but they are just like us in the end.
The notes are uplifting, and I save each one for a few days before moving on. I take Jenny’s words to heart. I’ve made changes for the better at our company, thanks to her.
But there’s nothing like hearing a story from Jenny in person.
“So right before I was supposed to leave for work this morning, a chipmunk got in the house,” Jenny said as we stood under the old American flag on the second floor near my office. Her hands were moving and her eyes were wide. I felt as if I was right there in her home, watching it all unfold.
“Oh, jeez, what a show that was,” she continued. “The cat got chasing the chipmunk and the dog got chasing the cat. There were animals whirling and whizzing around everywhere. I had to go to work so I just left ’em all in there. We’ll straighten it out tonight once I get back and see who’s still alive.” She laughs.
That’s another trait I love about Jenny: She can look life right in the eye and stare it down or laugh it away, depending on which is called for. Jenny makes America better every day just by getting up, working hard, and being out in the world. She’s a participant, not a spectator. She competes. She stays in the game, even when it’s hard.
Jenny is proud, yet humble. I love seeing both traits equally alive in the same person. She’s proud of her company. She’s proud of me. She likely has no idea how much that means to me. In return, I’m proud of Jenny. I think she’s amazing. When the two of us are together, it’s not the CEO and the cleaning lady exchanging pleasantries; it’s two friends hanging out together, laughing and sharing stories, different, yet the same.
“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.
This is the forty-third post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!