There are all kinds of toughness or backbone. At one time, I worked for a company that had been founded as a family firm in the late 19th Century and was still largely controlled by family members. They're still around, but they recently ran out of patriarchs and are now pretty much just another corporation.
But back in the day -- starting several generations back -- one august pillar of the community followed another, well-fed, soft-spoken, hard-bargaining men in suits who actually were pillars of their community, endowing the local college, taking on major charitable projects, and running all the branches of their company in an old-fashioned, frugal but not grasping manner. By the time things came down to the last of them sitting in the CEO's chair, none of them had needed to do a moment's hard physical labor in their lives. It showed -- co-workers were known to remark that shaking hands with the Big Boss was like touching as baby's bottom: he didn't even have a writer's callus!
And, as people who do some degree of physical work for a living, they looked a bit down on him for it. About the most effort he'd ever gone to was reading contracts.
One Autumn, he visited all of the corporation's facilities and gave short talks -- pep talks, really, appreciations of his employees and of the company, and he shook hands with everyone who attended. Everyone. Without exception. Shook hands, smiled, looked us in the eye and said a word or two, often addressing people by name.
No one questioned it at the time. He was known to do similar things on occasion, though this was a bit more personal than usual.
Three or four months later, a memo came out: the CEO had passed away. He'd been ill for over a year, it said. Cancer. He'd had an inoperable tumor.
Now tell me, just how tough did that soft-handed man have to be, to visit every person and place in his company, tell us what a fine company it was, how good its continued prospects were, how our efforts had helped make it what it was, look us in the eye, smile and...say goodbye without ever letting on anything was wrong, without ever tearing up or saying, "...this will be the last time..." or showing anything but good fellowship?
I don't know that I could do it. Could you? Not every kind of toughness is obvious at first glance.
4 months ago