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March 22, 2020
For years, no matter how tough, stressful and anxiety-inducing my day might be, it instantly becomes better when my friend Jim Woster appears.
Starting 13 years ago, he would pop in and out of my office at City Hall. Today, he remains a coffee stop or phone call away and never fails to leave me smiling.
Going into what promises to be another challenging week, I thought we all could use a dose of Woster wisdom.
So did Steve Erpenbach, who asked Woster to speak to his team at the South Dakota State University Foundation last week.
“Multiple people commented to me about it afterward,” Erpenbach told me when I asked permission to share the remarks with you.
“As you know, Jim is one of a kind — such a calm and reassuring influence.”
Erpenbach then shared some of Woster’s comments in an email with the headline “When the sun rises – and it will – what does our organization want to be remembered for?”
That’s a powerful question that each of us in business leadership needs to be asking today and throughout this crisis. We are being forced to make decisions quickly, often without as much information and certainly without as much preparation as we would like. However, those decisions and the way we do or do not show leadership are going to leave indelible imprints on our employees and those we serve.
But back to Woster, who in a normal week would be splitting his time between visiting patients at Avera and serving organizations such as SDSU and the Stockyards Ag Experience. I’m sure it’s driving the most active guy I know a bit crazy to have to socially distance, but he brought people together in this conference call with simple, time-tested advice.
All work has value. Whether you are attempting to do your job from home, under duress in your workplace or not at all because of circumstances beyond your control, I think you’ll appreciate Woster’s wisdom, as delivered to the team at SDSU:
“Thanks, Steve, and I would begin by repeating one sentence from Steve’s comments: ‘Be a friend and a comforting voice.’
Most people, especially those of us with gray hair and a bit long in the tooth, spend most of their time with a circle of close friends and – if lucky – several family members.
Sadly, for the most part, the conversation offers very little change. Today, it would be filled with coronavirus and the economy.
When you visit, either in person or by phone, you have the opportunity to bring something new and different to their life. Way deep down, most people are desperate for something different, positive and pleasant.
Make certain that you leave your personal problems at home and that you enter their world with a smile – a big, warm smile. It is hard to be glum when we are smiling, and that includes the telephone.
When someone calls the foundation or the third floor of Avera, the person answering the phone must put on the grin, pause a couple seconds and then happily proclaim, ‘Hi! Welcome to the SDSU Foundation. This is Jim. What can I do for you?’
Or, ‘This is Nancy. I’m a nurse on 3 East of Avera McKennan. How can I help you?’
All of us have been greeted with a sullen, ‘Hello, 3 East. How can I help you?’
It is not conducive to a good conversation. Attitude, good or bad, is easily felt by the person who is calling. And that applies to the SDSU Foundation, the nurse on 3 East or Jim Woster in a recliner at home.
Utilizing the information you have, such as grandchildren, a person in the community both of you know, anything that does not involve bad news but rather your client, will get your conversation off on a positive note.
It is not difficult to sense when someone is not having a good day. In that case, I think it important not to stay forever. Like I say, all of us can pick up on discomfort in a conversation.
Finally, never ever forget the old adage: ‘Bad times never last, but good people always do.’
Things will change. Things will get better. And it will happen when least expected. I truly believe that because I have seen it many times over my 80 years.
Thanks for everything you do. Yours is a great crew.”
He’s one of a kind, with the sort of take on life we all could use this week. Enjoy this simple wisdom from our friend, Jim Woster.