Exactly one year ago today, my father lost his long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. It was, and remains, the worst day of my life. However, from that day forward, I finally started doing what he had asked me to do for so many years.

My father was an extremely successful man in both business and life. He had a positive outlook on almost everything and openly shared his perspective, experience and wisdom every time we spoke. Like most children, I listened, but rarely acted or understood the message he was trying to deliver. As a father, he knew he couldn’t tell me exactly what to do, but he did his best to influence while letting me make my own decisions.

After he passed, I kept hearing his words and realized that listening to his guidance wasn’t enough, it was time to act. As a result, I changed everything.

While some of this may not be relevant to all, I thought I would take this opportunity to share 5 life and business lessons posthumously from a man who never had the tools and technology to deliver them to a broader audience. May you also find something of value in his advice.

1) Move to a different part of the country (check) – It’s easy to find comfort in what we know. Change can be terrifying, but it is also liberating. Don’t settle for what life has given to you, take the right opportunities as they come to you and hopefully you’ll find that what’s right for you, may be 2,000 miles away.

2) Respect is given, then earned (check) – Entitlement is an easy emotion. We want more, we want it faster, and we want it exactly the way we imagined it in our minds. We are hard wired to think we know what’s best and often ignore those that paved the road before us. Respect the guidance and wisdom of others. Even those younger than you and holding entry level positions. Respect the ideas, emotions and needs of others and they will in turn respect yours.

3) Be open about how you feel (check) – I’ve often been blamed for being too emotional when it comes to things I am passionate about. Many previous managers have advised me to control those emotions vs. letting them control you. It’s not about controlling your emotions, it’s about expressing them the right way. Do not hesitate to communicate how you feel, but do so in a way that fosters a discussion, strengthens a relationship and creates the opportunity for people to see your point of view.

4) Talk to Everyone – as your equal (still working on this one) – My father spoke to everyone as if they were the CEO of their company. From the waitstaff at a restaurant to the guy bagging groceries (if he actually ever made it to the grocery store). He genuinely wanted to know about them. Did they like their job? How was business? He was a natural conversationalist and people loved him because he took interest and time. Something we all claim to have less and less of. A senior executive at a Fortune 50 company and he’d spend 15 minutes talking to the waitstaff during a business lunch because he felt they were equally as important as the people around his table.

5) Give of yourself often (still working on this as well) – Need a job? Talk to my dad. Need financial advice? He’s your guy. Want to help improve childhood illiteracy? You have his attention. It’s important to be involved in things beyond what pays you. Beyond things that benefit just you. The most rewarding experiences of my fathers life were not those found around the boardroom table, they were making material changes in the lives of others. From volunteering with dog rescue programs, bringing toys to underprivileged children, building programs that help children learn to read, or guiding people through their careers. He was a mentor in the truest form.
While this post may be a little unusual for LinkedIn, I felt compelled to share as the world we live in today is more complicated, distracting and evolving at a pace we’re just not used to. We are asking our employees to do more, with less everyday and often forgetting that they are people, with real challenges, emotions and issues that prevent them from doing things the way you want them done.
Since he died, I vowed to change that mindset. My mindset. I finally started to see what it meant to be “People First.” To be a true leader, you need to be people first. Put people in scenarios where they can succeed. Where they can explore and find their passion. Enable them to find the time vs. consistently asking for more, if not all, of it. Be open to the ideas of others, as brilliance exists at all levels and everyone has the ability to surprise you. Listen. Listen with intent. Help.
So, while the world keeps trying to “Lean In” and chase dollars, remember that no amount of money or title will make you well rounded. “Lean Out” as often as you “Lean In” and when you become a leader…

  • Help your team grow, even though they may leave the nest eventually and move 2,000 miles away – Their success is equally important as your own
  • Make time for the interns and entry level folks. They need it more than anyone and could someday be your boss
  • Communicate effectively and openly. Encourage your team to be open when they are about to break or burn out. Fix the problems together, before you lose someone for reasons that have simple solutions
  • Talent is everywhere. Ask people what they think. Listen more than you speak and you may just find out what your people are capable of
  • Be accessible and open to ideas. Just because you like something done a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the right way. Just because that’s the way things have always been done, doesn’t mean that’s the way they should still be done. This applies in work and changing the way we teach children to read. Use what you learn in the office in places that desperately need your perspective

    I hope you find some value in these words and guidance. I waited too long to make these changes and know now just how valuable they are. I’ve seen these traits in the leaders around me. I look for them in my current mentors and find that those with these traits are not only helping me make the right career choices, but amazing friends.

    It was one year ago that I stood by his bed as he left us. It was when I said goodbye, that I finally promised to change.

    (Photo used is my father’s last watch – He made the time… and believe it or not. It hasn’t kept time since he died.)


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