I was working as a consultant in a beer company, helping the president and senior vice-presidents formulate and implement their new strategic vision. It was an enormous challenge. At the same time, my mother was in the final stages of cancer.
I worked during the day and drove 40 miles home to be with her every night. It was tiring and stressful, but it was what I wanted to do. My commitment was to continue to do excellent consulting during the day, even though my evenings were very hard. I didn’t want to bother the president with my situation, yet I felt someone at the company needed to know what was going on. So I told the vice-president of Human Resources, asking him not to share the information with anyone.
A few days later, the president called me into his office. I figured he wanted to talk to me about one of the many issues we were working on. When I entered, he asked me to sit down. He faced me from across his large desk, looked me in the eye and said, “I hear your mother is very ill.”
I was totally caught by surprise and burst into tears. He just looked at me, let my crying subside, and then gently said a sentence I will never forget: “Whatever you need.” That was it. His understanding and his willingness to both let me be in my pain and to offer me everything were qualities of compassion that I carry with me to this day..