Tuesday, July 29, 2014

5 Leadership Lessons From My Father

I previously posted these 5 simple Leadership Lessons on 06/13/14 via LinkedIn. After spending time with my father this summer I came away with an even deeper sense of gratitude for his guidance and example over the years. I saw what true contentment looks like so it's worth sharing his guidance once again.


My mornings often open with a call from my father - usually in the middle of a mad rush to get out the door or in the middle of a work meeting. He calls to say that he's thinking of us and that he's doing well. I feel guilty rushing through our conversations because I need to do something else at that moment. Whether it's to get my daughter to some place quickly - to school, to an appointment, to camp, or just to be somewhere that I've committed to go, I've been mostly on the run when he calls. The conversations go something like this: "Hi Dad - great to hear you! We're rushing to get to... How are things? Glad to know all is well. We'll talk to you again soon. We love you too." 

Father's Day is Sunday and I've taken the time to reflect carefully about the leader that my father has been for me and to share those lessons with you. At first pass you might be tempted to think that these lessons only apply to general character building. Dig deeper and consider how your business will benefit from these 5 simple leadership lessons.


5 Leadership Lessons From My Father

  • Leadership Lesson #1 - Respect your elders
  • Leadership Lesson #2 - Set the bar high and keep it there
  • Leadership Lesson #3 - Work hard and be an example for others
  • Leadership Lesson #4 - Learn something new everyday
  • Leadership Lesson #5 - Share what you know and have with others


Leadership Lesson #1 - Respect your elders

As a rebel, I often went against the grain with my dad. Surprisingly I was his first child to openly disagree with him during discussions. In our family, dad's word was law. I challenged the law with new ideas - and lived to tell about it (likely because I'm the youngest). Southerners will know well what I'm talking about... Respect for elders is a long-standing Southern tradition. Calling an elder ma'am or sir are indications that one has an understanding of these traditions. I show a reverence for my father that catches many of my friends by surprise. I still call him sir when we talk. His longevity speaks for itself. At 86 years old, he has earned everyone's respect. Elders have much to teach that we would do well to learn.

Leadership Lesson #2 - Set the bar high and keep it there

What I most appreciate now about my father is that he set the standard high for us and didn't move it. Squirm as we might (and did!), the standards remained the standards. Our rules were piled high, wide, and deep covering most aspects of our lives. No matter how far we went, we could always count on markers to find our way. Whether we continued to live by those standards or opted to change them, we knew where the bar was and it served as a stabilizing force. Still does. The ability to set the bar high and keep it there is a characteristic that I'm now emulating with my daughter. She's not squirming. Yet.

Leadership Lesson #3 - Work hard and be an example for others

At work dad was a very strong entrepreneurial leader. He always led his workers in ways that earned their respect. They would have walked through fire for him if he asked because they knew that he wouldn't ask unless he was willing to do it first. He demonstrated necessary actions and activities without complaining. In the scorching heat of southern summers, he would wear his shirt collars buttoned all the way up to the neck with long sleeves closed at the cuff. Why? Because that was his standard. He didn't try to change others who couldn't take the heat. He simply remained firm in his way. This type of demonstration was more powerful than words. The fact that I'm writing about it now is proof of the powerful impression that he made on me. To this day people who worked for or around him are amazed at his stamina - and thank him for his example.

Leadership Lesson #4 - Learn something new everyday

Even at 86 years old, my dad continues to learn about new technologies and concepts. I'm blown away that he can even use a cell phone! Of course he's had one for quite a while now. Still it's intriguing to observe him checking his voice mail or clicking from one phone call to another. He's still curious about how things work and why. He isn't trapped in the past as much as one might think except that his body limits his mobility. His sight is beginning to go, but his mind is as sharp as ever. At the adult center that he visits everyday, he writes, sings, dances, exercises, and meets new people. He loves it. Keeping the mind fresh isn't just for the elderly. This lesson easily applies to all of us.

Leadership Lesson #5 - Share what you know and have with others

Both of my parents are generous souls who shared what they knew and had with others including their opinions, ideas, and support. Even though resources were scarce for a family as large as ours, neither of them held back as a protective measure. They believed that whatever they needed would always be provided for us and they were right. On countless occasions I witnessed my dad putting his boots back on after just coming home from a long day's work. Why? Because someone needed his help. He never bothered about whether the person asking for his help was a nuisance. He just did what came naturally. A simple act of sharing carries a ripple effect far and wide. I'm a beneficiary of his ripples.


If I do nothing else in my entire life except to work on mastering these 5 leadership lessons, mine would be a life well spent. Men like my father from times past had something remarkable that doesn't seem to exist today. They had stamina - and they had standards. My dad's standards and the lessons that came from those standards continue to sustain me today. In a couple of weeks I'll get to see him - and I'll be sure to tell him what his leadership lessons mean to me.


Photo: Paul A. Gregory Senior (1928) - 17 years old; (2014) - 86 years old

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