The Impact of One Generous Leader

Leading up to “Giving Tuesday” and Thanksgiving this year, we thought we’d do something different. I plan to post simple stories of leaders I know who’ve encountered generous people during their lifetime. This first is from my friend, Glen Jackson who tells of his first encounter with Truett Cathy. Our series is called: “The Art of Generosity.”

I first met Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, in the summer of 1995.

My partner and I had just started our business in public relations and communication. We were wet-behind-the-ears entrepreneurs who had big dreams and still do. One of those dreams, nearly  22 years ago now, was for “Jackson Spalding” to one day have the opportunity to partner with Chick-fil-A.

My first business trip at JS was to Washington, D.C. I got on the plane early and was in the back. As passengers boarded that Delta flight, I looked up and saw him. He was carrying a bunch of cow trinkets. The cow campaign for CFA was just starting—and Truett was leading the way.

Truett had a big smile on his face, a bright twinkle in his eyes. I couldn’t believe it. Truett Cathy was on the plane along with his entire leadership team. I pondered what to do. Should I go over and introduce myself? Maybe give him one of my freshly minted business cards? (I think I had 100 of them in my coat pocket.)

Well, when we landed in Washington, I headed to baggage claim. It was very crowded in the Ronald Reagan airport. I stopped by the men’s room near baggage claim. As I was washing my hands, I looked to my immediate left, and there was Truett. He was washing his hands, too.

I was 30 at the time and not sure what to say. But then I remembered something. I had read one of his books earlier in the year. The book was “It’s Easier to Succeed Than to Fail.” So, I said to Truett, “It is easier to succeed than to fail. Thanks for writing the book. I read it earlier this year.”

He smiled as he looked at me and nodded. “What is your name?” he asked in that distinctive squeaky voice. I said, sounding a bit formal, “My name is Glen Jackson. I live in Atlanta. We just started a business in July.”

“Well that is great, Glen. Good luck. I want you to have something.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a Be Our Guest card for a free Chick-fil-A Sandwich. It was signed by him. S. Truett Cathy.

I thanked him and carefully put it in my wallet while maintaining eye contact. As he walked out of the men’s room, I said to myself, “One day we are going to work for you, Mr. Cathy.”

But that was not the end of the D. C. story.

We both walked to the baggage area to get our luggage. As I was looking for my bag on the luggage carousel, I saw Truett pulling bags off the conveyer belt for someone. He was helping a young lady with her luggage. She was about six-months pregnant. He was 73 at the time. She had no idea who was helping her, but I sure did. I noticed as he finished getting all her luggage loaded onto a pushcart.

She thanked him for helping. He said, “My pleasure,” and off she went. He never told her who he was.

I took it all in. It demonstrated to me what servant leadership is all about. No task is too small or too big for a servant leader. After helping this young lady Truett went on to have a meeting with the president at the White House.

I kept Truett’s gift to me in my wallet for more than 15 years as a reminder to me that dreams come true, and nothing in this life is a sheer coincidence. No relationship. No encounter. No invitation. No conversation. Nothing.

Sharing this story is a reminder to me again to keep seizing the common opportunities to demonstrate generosity.

Over the next month, the Growing Leaders team and I are going to be collecting stories from leaders like you that have done something generous for a young adult. Generosity can look several different ways including sacrificing your time, energy, resources or money. Please take a minute to click here and share your story with us.

The Impact of One Generous Leader