My grandfather, Daddy Jim, was a mountain of a man. Tall and stout, he had a deep voice and commanding presence. That man filled up a room. Singing the hymns in church, his voice rang out above all others. And when he spoke, people listened. Even Santa Claus.
We learned that lesson one evening at my grandmother’s house – the home place for our family – many years ago in Jasper, Ala. It was Christmas Eve and the family gathered at grandma’s house for the year’s most special holiday. After supper, with Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters crooning away above the static of the Philco radio, Daddy Jim rose up from the table and walked past the Christmas tree – a spruce tree spray-painted a gaudy silver with blue lights and blue ornaments – to peer out the window. He shot us a serious look of concern.
“Now y’all better get upstairs and get to sleep or Santa won’t come tonight.”
After some complaining, we trudged up the stairs and got into bed, but it was no use. It was Christmas Eve and we couldn’t contain the excitement. We snuck back out the hallway and sat at the top of the stairs, listening to the adults and hoping to hear a “ho ho ho,” followed by the rustling of gifts being placed under the tree. Maybe we’d even catch a glimpse of Santa. The adults, of course, wouldn’t know we were spying on them.
All of the sudden there’s a knock. Daddy Jim opens the front door. Upstairs, we can only hear one side of the conversation.
“Merry Christmas, Santa,” Daddy Jim says. “What’s that? You say that you can’t stop here tonight because the kids are still awake? And if they’re still awake it means they must not believe in you? Well, I guess you don’t have any choice but to go on down the road.”
Upstairs, we were devastated. We looked at each other, tears welling in our eyes, and slouched off to our beds in despair.
We awoke the next morning to a living room filled with toys and treats and all the trappings of a Christmas morning that a kid could never forget. The adults told us that Daddy Jim had saved the day. After Santa left, he had hopped in his Edsel and drove down the street, caught up with Santa and convinced him to come back. Daddy Jim talked. Santa listened. And we had a very merry Christmas. It was a story that lived on in our family for years.
Looking back on that night decades later, there’s a lesson to be learned. As managers and leaders in our companies, we often don’t realize the weight of our words. You never know who’s listening or what they are hearing – whether it is around the corner or up at the top of the stairs. And your words have an impact. Whether you are talking to a group, or being overheard outside your office, what you say matters, and those words can have a lasting effect on the people around you – good or bad. Something to think about as we celebrate this magical time of year with our families, our friends and our employees. Happy holidays!
President, National Precast Concrete Association