On May 12, I was waiting for my car at the reception of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba, Mumbai, unaware of the fact that the next 50 seconds were going to leave a lasting impression on my life.
While waiting, I turned towards the hotel lobby and happened to observe a man in his 70s escorted by 2 management personnel. As he walked gently, I was struck by the captivating aura around him.
In a flash, I gave my phone to a friend and asked him to take a picture of me with the old man, something I usually don't do. I asked the personnel escorting the man, "May I have a picture with him?"
He replied politely, "Sorry sir, it's a little late."
I respected that. But I couldn't take my eyes off the man.
I realized that the men in the black jackets accompanying him were not his personal bodyguards but the general managers of Taj Hotel who were with him of their own accord.
It was 11 in the night and I could sense that the man who had made my heart pound like a teenager might be a bit tired. He spoke to the concierge staff in a very soft tone and handed over his parking ticket while I kept wondering where his car or the driver was.
He gently walked to the next car, an old white Honda Civic, got into the driver's seat and, like all common drivers in the world, struggled to get his wallet out from his back pocket. He then removed a tip and handed it over to the valet driver with a, 'Thank you' (I assume that's what he said because the driver smiled).
He drove off and everything at the Taj continued to be just as it was 50 seconds ago. My car came in next and I was beaming to have seen a leader whose quotes, case studies, books and actions have inspired me for more than a decade.
I asked my valet driver, "Is he always like this?"
"He is amazing, sir. His car was waiting in line like others. The cops insisted on pushing it forward but he always refuses. He doesn’t like it if we don’t check his car like everyone else's."
I had read that true leadership is not about doing extraordinary things but doing ordinary things in an extraordinary manner. And in those 50 seconds, I witnessed the same.
The man was none other than the owner of the hotel, the former chairman of the Tata Group and India’s foremost philanthropist, Ratan Tata.
He didn't have the most fashionable or trendy clothing on him but he wore a smile on his face, regardless of the time, place or person he met.
Eventually, it comes down to who we choose to inspire us. And that night, I got my inspiration in those 50 seconds.