Just. One. Word.

I was having a tough time of it. I’d finally achieved the senior position in a dynamic company that I’d always dreamed of… but it wasn’t going particularly well.

I’d spent most of my career in small companies with a close-knit team of people I’d recruited myself, and now I was running a group of ten people, in a multi-national, whom I’d inherited. They didn’t react well to a new boss that had been ‘parachuted in’.

I tried to play the tough operator, as my boss had suggested, and bring in some strict rules and tough discipline. However, that’s really not me. I like to operate collaboratively, so I wasn’t being authentic. I was trying to make sense of it all… but it wasn’t working for me… or for them.

It was in the middle of all this that I got invited to present at a big company conference – several hundred senior people in a large, conference room – the highlight of the business year.

I had to introduce our new product suite – fairly technical stuff – but in a language that the audience could understand. I worked hard and pulled my powerpoint together. I got my story right and made sure I highlighted to key benefits of our new products and the value they would bring to our customers.

The day arrived; my moment in the spotlight was approaching.

The hotel was packed. The delegates were mingling and looking forward to the exciting event. There was a buzz in the atmosphere as the expectations of the day rose. The stage was ready, the lights dimmed, and we were off.

The introduction went well and then into the first keynote speaker. After the first slide, you could sense it wasn’t going to go well. All technical stuff and no benefits; feature after feature after feature. You could palpably feel the energy in the room dissipate away. I was on next.

I walked up to the rostrum. I was mic'd up, and I could hear my own voice resonate around the room. I gripped the podium with both hands so tight, my hands went white. It was a mixture of total fear, 100% confidence and an out-of-body experience. I could feel the energy in the room lift and the audience react well to my presentation.

I was on my last slide; it had gone well. I segued nicely into my well-prepared ending. I was done. The audience clapped and I walked off stage literally shaking with relief.

It was just then that a sales director, who I really admired, walked over to me and said one word,

“Outstanding” she smiled.

I’ve never forgotten that word. That word of support. That word of encouragement. Even though I was having a tough time at work, it’s stuck with me. Years later, I still can remember how it made me feel.

Just one word.

It motivated me for weeks after. I finally left the company on my own terms and found a new direction, but I have never forgotten that moment. It was the right word at the right time in the right place.

Just one word.

So, if you are managing people, or working with people who need a bit of encouragement, it doesn’t need a lot to make a huge difference. You might just say something 'in the moment', but you might say something that will stay with that person for a long, long time.

Just. One. Word.


To the person who inspired this article. Thank you. I'm glad we're still in contact.