My family recently celebrated my Dad’s birthday for the third time since he passed away. While it’s a day that tugs at my heart, it also prompted some fun exchanges around things like his favorite songs and movies. I have clear memories of him singing along to classic tracks during road trips and quoting lines from movies we watched a hundred times.
In addition to his love of pop culture though, he was also an incredible business person and community leader. He had a long career in the newspaper industry, capped by a 20-year run in the role of Publisher (CEO in the newspaper world). Beyond that, he gave back by serving on community boards and in city council.
We didn’t talk about work and leadership quite as often as we did movies. But the actions he modeled drove home some important lessons better than any conversation ever could.
Now as I’m growing my own business, I continue to reap the value from his example.
He didn’t get to see my business evolve these past few years in person, but he’s definitely been a part of the journey.
Even though I can’t give him a quick ring to get his perspective like I used to do, I can still reflect on my memories and hear his voice.
The ideas that came to mind as I thought about his leadership values aren’t groundbreaking or new. In fact, as the title suggests I would classify them as timeless.
This collection obviously goes beyond philosophy for me. I got to see someone embrace these attributes to produce a remarkable career. I saw how it resulted in success for himself, the business he worked for, and his community. It also provided happiness and fulfillment for him on a personal level.
With that, here’s what my Dad instilled in me as a leader.
7 Leadership Principles From My Dad
My Dad had strong personal connections with the people on his team. He took the time to get to know them well beyond the necessity of work. On a personal level, I think he wanted to create an environment that he would enjoy participating in every day. On a team level, it helped build a culture of trusting relationships. His company became a place where people chose to work not just for years, but for decades.
My Dad was never short on opinions. Providing a clear point of view on decisions is critical for any leader. But how you formulate and arrive at those decisions can vary quite a bit. My Dad’s formula started with being an excellent listener. It allowed him to take advantage of his team’s talents and knowledge. And in turn, they got to see the impact their contributions had on the direction of the business.
My Dad believed being a parent was one of the best training grounds for developing an effective manager. When you have kids you go through patience bootcamp. It gives you a whole new definition for how long it takes to do the simple things you once took for granted. Like leave the house. Kids also put the scope of problems in a new light. It doesn’t mean you care less about challenges, but you gain new perspective that can help you keep your head under pressure. Kids aren’t the only way to develop patience and perspective of course, they’re just a great way to level up.
My Dad had a very strong moral compass. He was empathetic, kind, and treated others with respect. That consistency of character is a big part of what attracted people to him. Whether it’s on a personal level or for a business, consistency builds trust. To achieve long term success, a business needs leadership to set clear values and then demonstrate them consistently.
My Dad was a great storyteller both in person and in his writing. He always had a strong intuition for sharing ideas in ways that were meaningful and memorable. For leaders, the ability to tell a compelling story about your business is a critical skill. Whether you need to hire someone, build a partnership, or sell something to a customer, the quality of your story will determine your success.
My Dad didn’t limit his leadership contributions to the confines of the office. He founded or sat on boards ranging from economic growth for the city, to the local college, the United Way, the art museum, his church, the city’s local music festival, and more. This work brought him a lot of personal happiness and satisfaction and it elevated the status of his business in the community. After he “retired” — in name only — he was appointed to the city council and later elected to two follow up terms. Turned out, playing golf wasn’t quite enough to keep him occupied.
Laugh More (Especially At Yourself)
My Dad loved to laugh and he loved to make other people laugh. For us, sharing jokes, movies, and TV shows were a huge part of our bond. That same love of laughter served him in his work too. Sharing a laugh and showing the vulnerability to laugh at yourself is an incredible way to build genuine connections.
Keep Growing To Fill Those Shoes
My Dad left some big shoes behind. Literally, he wore a size 13. I’ve topped out at an 11, so not much else I can do there. But figuratively his footprint was also huge.
Luckily, when it comes to leadership skills we can always keep growing.
I was fortunate to have my Dad as a role model. He helped propel my growth as a leader and I think his influence will only get more valuable as I progress in my career.
But there’s always more to learn from others. We can always do a better job sharing our experiences.
What’s a lesson a leader or mentor in your life instilled in you?
Special thanks to my wife Lisa Pahl for encouraging me to write this.