Father’s Day is around the corner, and it’s only fitting that we pay a tribute to dads. (You may remember our leadership lessons from Mom in honor of Mother’s Day 2010.) Here are just a few of the lessons imparted by the way my dad has always loved and nurtured his family:
There are many ways to make a family. When my dad married my mom, she had 3 young children (one was me!) from a previous marriage. I can only imagine how many people told him, “You are nuts!” From the very beginning, my dad showered us with acceptance and love. We never questioned that he was, in every way that mattered, our father. Leadership wisdom: If you are leading a team or organization, it doesn’t matter how it came to be yours – through promotion, downsizing, merger or whatever. Those people deserve nothing less than your total commitment.
Model the behaviors you wish to see. No matter how frustrated my dad was, he never degraded us in any way. Sure, he yelled at us sometimes, but he never called us names or treated us less than respectfully. That choice paid him dividends as we became teens who tested the boundaries. With rare exception, we didn’t verbally abuse our parents (at least where they could hear us). Leadership lesson: It’s your job to “be the change you wish to see in the world,” to quote Gandhi. If you want your employees to respect you, start with treating them respectfully, no matter how frustrated you may be.
Sacrifice for others. My dad often worked 3 jobs in order to be able to pay the bills and ensure that birthdays and Christmases were special. He slept little and rarely had time to see friends or just relax. Leadership wisdom: Your sacrifice might entail taking a pay cut to keep employees or simply standing up for people when they need to be defended. Removing organizational or external barriers so that people can achieve their life’s purpose means more than you know to your people. They will repay you with loyalty, hard work and their own sacrifices that ensure the organization’s success.
Be there. My dad was deployed to Southeast Asia during the early years of the Vietnam war. That was a tough time for all of us, and my father decided not to re-enlist; he therefore had to forgo the re-enlistment bonus that would have made our lives more comfortable. He knew that being stateside with us was far more important than material things. Throughout my life, my dad’s been present and available, but not hovering. Leadership wisdom: Be available to your people, understand their hopes and challenges and delegate meaningful work in the right way. Distance should not be a barrier; use videoconferencing and other technology to stay connected.
Be vulnerable. We grew up without much money, so when it came time for me to go to college, it seemed I’d only be able to afford a community college. My dad felt horrible when I fell in love with a small, private and very costly university. When I received my acceptance letter and found that I was awarded an academic and need-based full ride, my dad said nothing and walked outside. I thought he might be mad, but instead he was weeping tears of joy. He was thrilled to know that I could realize a dream, in spite of our financial circumstances. Leadership wisdom: You might not want to burst into tears, but showing your softer side with your team is a powerful act of modeling. You are a human being with frustrations, faults and trepidations, and it’s perfectly fine to share those with others and seek support.
Happy Father’s Day to all dads, and most especially to my Dad. Instead of soap-on-a-rope or a popsicle stick frame, this year I give you my heartfelt thanks for the leadership lessons that you and Mom have always effortlessly taught.
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Photo is of my dad (on right) and my son, Ryan, who was almost 18 at the time.