It was a business trip like so many others.

I was a regional operations manager at that time, making a routine visit to a big city operation in the Midwest to do an engineering audit.  I was scheduled to meet with the local ops manager.

I knew Jeff, and I knew his work.  He was good, and he cared.  I didn’t expect to find anything problematic, except perhaps a variance or two from standard operating procedure, which was not all that uncommon in good performing operations.

So, in working through the audit with him, I did not expect to be surprised.

Until he surprised me.

It was the last day of my visit.  As we were wrapping things up, he told me he wanted to show me something.  He opened one of the drawers in his desk, and pulled out a small, folded piece of stationary paper.

I knew immediately what it was.

Years before, I had handwritten a note of encouragement …

He said that note made a real difference for him.  He had saved it; he told me he still reads it from time to time…

He just wanted to thank me before I left for the airport.

*     *     *     *     *

Fast forward, several years.

I am now at a different company, in a different Midwestern city.  I am delivering a seminar to mostly front line managers, and we’re in the middle of a discussion when the office receptionist interrupts and tells me I have a phone call.  When I asked her to take a message she quite uncharacteristically firmly said that I needed to take the call, now.  A bit flustered by this point, I called a break and followed her out.

It was the Senior Vice President.  He was calling to let me know that I was just named as one of the recipients of a rather prestigious company award.  He wanted to simply call and congratulate me on my achievement.

When the session regrouped after the break, one of the managers asked me what the important and urgent call was all about…

*     *     *     *     *

I’ll never forget the reaction of the managers in the conference room.

Jeff had saved, for years, that small, handwritten message of encouragement.

It was just a note.

It was just a phone call.