We learn leadership early. Sadly, those models can be both examples of strong, just and consistent leadership or they can be quite the opposite. When evaluating your leadership style man, you need look no further than dear ole dad.
I know that not everyone grew up with a father in the home. I was very fortunate. Though we had no money, I always had the presence of a bright, involved, passionate and dedicated dad. If you did not, this role may have been filled by another loved one. The title, “father figure” has always rung solid to me as a title of distinction and tremendous respect for that very reason. The role of a father in the small slice of society that I am familiar with is unique. Leadership lessons that dramatically form our behavior patterns can be traced back to chats while fishing or tossing a football, arguments while assembling furniture for a guest room or flat out fights revolving around the veracity of his pattern that was to be followed when mowing the lawn and the astonishing wisdom, unwavering truth and efficacy of said pattern. Good, bad or neutral, dads seem to have a lasting impression on our ability and preferences in things like conflict resolution, reasoning and leadership.
On Father’s Day every year I am reminded of some of the core thoughts my dad held dear. And while there are many nights when I miss him and wonder what he would think of the man that I have become or of the son (soon to be sons) that I am raising, it is always on Father’s Day that I take inventory on how I am doing against my natural model for leadership. I remember back to doing homework with him and being pissed off as he would repeatedly implore (um, maybe if there was a word between urge and demand it would be more appropriate here) me to “show every step!” I was a smart kid and could see solutions, especially in mathematics and so this perceived waste of time offended my intellectual sensibilities and felt somehow beneath me (yeah, I was still in elementary school and yet had already developed that level of academic arrogance). Dad knew that as I advanced, the diligence around taking things in a step by step manner would be invaluable. See, he had perspective that I did not have. He knew that while the math in elementary school was, well, elementary, the advanced mathematics I would face down the road would not be so easy to decipher. He also had the wisdom to try and enforce this concept at a stage where I could focus on the process rather than spend time gnashing my teeth over the complexity of the math problem. This step by step method is the foundation for so many things in my education and in my work life that I shudder to think where I would be without the foundation poured over a dimly lit kitchen table.
My dad was a proponent of the basics. If you have read this blog previously or know me, you know that I ramble on seemingly forever about focusing on the basics. There is a direct tie to my dad there. While he was a gifted electrician, his chosen path of television repair was ill-timed as televisions became commodities and with the deprecation of the vacuum tube as a component in most consumer electronics, he found himself without a job. A superior designer of irrigation systems in Massachusetts, my family had moved down to Florida to start anew after a catastrophic fire. Unfortunately, Dad quickly realized that the market for high-end, arguably beautiful irrigation systems that were in high demand in the more affluent northeast were at best out of place in central Florida. So here he was with two careers, useless. A man who served in World War II and Korea and who had already raised three children was starting over in a strange land with another child and no real solid way to earn a living.
I never saw my father give up. He believed that his job was to provide for his family. He also believed that with enough hard work you could accomplish almost anything. He was an early adopter of new technology and while the 1969 Encyclopedia Americana was the height of technology in our home, he would venture to the library and leverage every resource he could find. He determined that a career in sales was the way to earn money and control his future, so he started reading and listening to everything he could about sales. He found out who the most successful people in sales were and consumed their materials with the appetite of recently ousted competitor on the Biggest Loser. I cannot tell you how many hours I listened to Zig Ziglar tapes and had Dad explain to me in great detail the complexities and beauty of leading with questions, always driving to a ‘yes’ and the Ben Franklin close.
Much of that material you would think would be lost on an 8 year old.
Amazingly, it wasn’t. While dad never did make much money, he always provided what we needed. He worked to make sure we had food and a place to live. While we didn’t have the fanciest of anything, I learned what it meant to have focus. I learned that failure happens when we try to accomplish difficult things and it is no sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength to be willing to try something hard. I learned that hard work, focus and tenacity matter. I learned that life does not owe you a single thing and that the only actions you can truly and clearly control are your own.
There was never any doubt why he worked so hard. His first team, the group he led before any team at work or any group to whom he was presenting was his family. I have never been a fan of family being considered only people with whom you share DNA. Family are the people you surround yourself, love and will defend at any cost. The people who you would give what you have to in order for them to be okay even before you would protect or provide for yourself.
A focus on the basics, flexibility, desire and an intense focus on what is important are a pretty damn good recipe for success in leadership. This is only a sample of the things I learned from the man I am proud to have called Dad. While this may be more personal than business, I think that there are some serious lessons to be learned here. I want you to take a look at the people who have influenced you and see if you can see some of those lessons in your past. Look forward and make sure both in your personal and professional life you are passing on these values as well.
NOTE: I do not mean to ignore or downplay the incredibly important role of Moms in the development of our personality and leadership styles (or aunts, grandmothers, uncles or any other family relation.) For me, my dad’s lessons were the ones that seemed to pertain most to my leadership style. But whoever your leadership role model is, use their lessons wisely. And tell them thank you while you still can.
SECOND NOTE: The fact that many of you reading this did not grow up with a solid leadership role model literally (and I mean literally like the British mean it…you know…its real definition) makes me very sad. This sadness is not pity toward you or your upbringing at all but rather a general sadness that I have seen and know many people who missed out on this fundamentally amazing process. I believe that is one of the reasons why I love to coach and encourage you to be involved in the lives of the young people wherever you live. The time investment will yield greater results on society than any other you will make.
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