Timeless Life Lessons in Leadership

June 16, 2015

Leaders help others see, then let them find their way

Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation is a fascinating book focused on the era of the Great Depression and the Second World War. I agree that was a great generation. My father was part of that generation, born in 1921. I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately.

My dad was the largest and strongest influence in my life. He helped shape me into the leader I am today. Not by yelling or talking, but by showing. Don’t get me wrong – he yelled and I deserved it – but that is not what shaped our relationship; experiences did! Today, I want to share two experiences that helped me become a better leader, husband and father.

Education: Keep it simple

When I was 11, I lost my mother; my dad lost his wife and partner. As an 11-year-old boy, I did not truly understand what love was or how to mourn. The loss of my mother was basic to me…lunch, dinner, bandages, help with homework, taking my temperature, and caring for me when I was sick.

I can remember sitting next to my father on the couch as he cried about my mother. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry. He put his arm around me and said, “It hurts to lose someone you love because you think about all the good times you shared together, the way you supported each other, the friendships and family you built….” I was nodding my head, but my father could tell I was not getting it. “You and Dave are best friends, right? Well buddy, I just lost my best friend.”

Throughout my life, my dad could always cut right through the fog. He taught me a lot about being able to make the complex simple. He never belittled me; he just made sure I could see the moment clearly. He did not tell me how to act; he just made sure I could understand the moment (good or bad) and then he let me handle it (providing an invisible hand of support). I am thankful that with a few simple words, my dad helped me understand what a great loss we had experienced.

As leaders, we need to help others see what cannot be seen.

The best way to help others see clearly is by removing complexity. And then once we do that, let them find their way. Do not tell them how to feel or what to do; they need to do that on their own, so they grow and can eventually lead. But we should make sure we offer the invisible hand of support.

Respect: Everyone deserves it

Leaders make an effort to know the people around them, regardless of job or title.

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My father loved sports. He coached a number of my teams and hardly ever missed my games. One of my favorite memories as a kid was walking home from football practice with my father. I learned a lot on those walks.

One day, as we were leaving the school after practice, the janitor said, “Goodnight.” I was busy talking about myself and my day. I went right past the janitor without acknowledging his comment. It was not intentional.

When we exited the gym, my father pulled me aside and asked, “What is wrong with you? Joe was talking to you and you ignored him.” I said I didn’t know who Joe was. When he pointed back at the man, I said, “The janitor? Oh Dad, don’t worry about it.”

He bent down, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “Albert, Joe is someone’s dad, brother, son… would you want someone to treat me like that? You are never too busy to show respect.” My dad had go back inside and apologize to Joe. I did. Joe put his arm around me, laughed, and said, “Your father is a good man. Tell Mike I said goodnight!”

When I came out the gym door, I asked my father how he knew Joe, and he said he introduced himself on the first night of practice. My dad knew everyone because he made an effort to get to know them.

As leaders, we need to make an authentic effort to get to know those around us.

We need to understand who they are and what makes them tick. Getting to know someone starts with saying hello and meaning it. Showing them respect as a human being, not based on the job or title they hold or the way they look; just based on the simple concept of respecting them as fellow human beings. To this day, I say hello to everyone and anyone – and I always mean it. I have met some very fascinating people and gained a lot of interesting perspectives, just by showing respect.

Draw on your own experience

Eleven years after I lost my mom, I lost my father to cancer. This time, at 22, no one had to explain great loss to me. My father’s impact on my personal and professional behaviors lives on in me every day. Even now, every time I think of him, I smile. I think about what he taught me through our time together and I am forever grateful for the life lessons that have molded me into the leader, husband, father and friend I am today.

Draw on your own experiences – you’ll find (and hopefully embrace) those unique and simple life lessons that make you the individual and leader you want to be, professionally and personally.

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Al Chiaradonna