Leadership Stories: A Shoeshine Can Change Your Day

Transformational Leaders Look for the Kairos Moments that Bring Clarity and Inspiration *

I stopped to get a shoeshine in the Chicago airport. There was no one present when I arrived at the shoeshine chair. After a few minutes, I heard a voice coming from down the corridor. “Just have a seat!” he cried. So, I lifted myself up into the the high chair, expecting another boring, conversation-less shoeshine.

Well, it was the best shoeshine I have ever gotten AND it was an inspirational moment. There are times when someone shows up to lift us out of our fog. This was that kind of experience for me.

The man who was proceeding to shine my shoes responded to my question of “Will you make me look professional from the bottom up?” Sherman answered, “No, you are responsible for that. I can only make your shoes look great.” To which I responded, “You must be good at this.” He then answered, “No. I’m great at this! I put my heart into it and provide you the best service that I can deliver.”

Wow. That was a great response! He went on to share his principles of success with me, so I asked, “Why don’t you go on stage as a speaker so you can share these principles?” To which he replied, “I like what I am doing, so I will stay right here.”

It made me reflect on the fact that I also like what I do and never want to stop, even though I turn 65 this year, which is the official place we, as Americans, get permission to “retire.” Not wanting to check out of the space that brings me value by bringing value to others, I revisited my commitment that I never wanted to “retire.” I love working with leaders and adding value to their work. Why should I ever stop?

Sherman went on to talk about his level of commitment to providing the best service and to serve people from his heart (said as he patted his chest over his heart).

Here’s what I learned in just under 10 minutes from Sherman about success:

  • Show up – you have to be present, fully present
  • Be prepared – know what you will need and plan ahead to have it
  • Serve others with your heart – don’t just provide the minimum, provide the best
  • Show others that you care – tell people that they are valued and ask what they want
  • Be great at what you do – there’s no halfway, either you are great or you are ordinary – do we need more ordinary people among today’s leaders?

I was not looking for inspiration. It came to me. Fortunately, I was paying attention. An effective leader is aware – not only self-aware, but also aware of what value others are bringing to their work and to us through their work. If I had been on the phone, or writing this article, or just in a fog thinking about only my problems or challenges, then I might have missed out on the moment of inspiration that appeared in my day.

The Greek words for time, Kronos (Χρόνος) and Kairos (καιρός) give perspective on chronological time (sequence and strategy) and the unplanned moments in time that bring us an emphatic revelation, respectively. It’s a Kairos moment when God allows us to experience his joy from unexpected sources and it is a perfect moment of discovery.

I received an unexpected gift today. The shoeshine cost $6. I’ll bet that most people would pay $10 for the extra value. I did.

How will you bring value to someone in an unexpected way today?

* This is a repost of a blog I wrote several years ago at the age of 64, so there’s a difference in the timeline if you know that I am older now.

Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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Hugh Ballou (Author)


    Great Story! Thanks!