Over the past five years, I had the remarkable privilege of working for my father. As a child, I had great reverence for his work. Although I was often frustrated when it seemed he invested more time in other kids, I could never stay upset for long because I was always struck by the thought that my dad was a somebody. When we lived in Scotland, he was local celebrity. He had been on radio and television and had taken the stage before arenas packed with thousands. It wasn’t uncommon for us to be stopped in the street by a young person he had inspired. Atop his shoulders, I would tug at tufts of his hair impatiently – which is why I’m convinced he’s balding now – eager to disappear from the starstruck teenagers that wished to pick his mind. My dad really was a somebody. He was generally regarded as an expert in his field, and received the praise – if not pay – as such. When we moved to the anonymity of the U.S., I never forgot how incredibly my dad was and is.
As a potential who-knows-what (these days), I was excited to work for my dad. Until now, that was probably one of my best kept secrets. My father is an incredible communicator, and I love to hear him speak. I love to listen with a critical ear, paying attention to how he uses language and humor to convey his points. Recent events aside, the biggest disappointment of my summer was missing him give the salvation message at VBS. I had been so excited to sit at the feet of a master and learn from the way he communicated with the tiny humans. Instead, I was cornered in an office and force fed drivel about an already-resolved head lice incident. When that opportunity was taken from me, I was livid for days.
No one can deny that my father is a dynamic communicator, but those of you who have never seen him behind the scenes may not know what an incredible leader he is. I’ve learned a number of key leadership lessons from working with him, and I feel they’re too important not to share:
1. Good leaders are slow to speak and quick to listen
Many people associate leadership with outspoken words and fast, decisive action. While helming a ship in the eye of a storm, my father would be the first to take decisive action, but he has the wisdom to know that brashness is no way to captain a crew at all times. I’ve learned from watching my father that the best leaders absorb their surrounds and listen to the people they lead. They take time and seek expert advice before making a decisive turn. It is never wise to make a decision without all the facts. From my father, I’ve learned to be as unbiased as possible and to weigh all possible outcomes and how they will personally effect each person involved. When my father leads, he thinks not only of his staff members, but also of their families and they people they serve. Through the years, he’s worked with a lot of under performers. The impetuosity of my youth made me question why he never fired anyone. The answer is that he wanted to know why someone under performed and how he could help them move into using their gifts. In he back of his mind he always remembered that redeeming someone was better than casting them off. Building another leader was more important to him than giving up on anyone.
2. Good leaders coach
To that end, my father taught me what it was to coach a team. Rather than trade a player to a different team, his first step was to watch how they played and look for their natural abilities. My father has a great eye for potential and would far rather move someone sideways to play a position that brought out their strengths. In his day, he’s worked with a lot of Mark McGuire’s trying to pitch. Or if you prefer, Wayne Rooneys attempting to play in goal. Or Luongos playing forward. Pick your poison. Good coaches spot talent and develop it. Moreover, coaching is deeply personal. A coach cannot micromanage. You can’t learn to play hockey sitting on the bench. It’s far harder to work alongside someone as they struggle than it is to do it yourself, but my father is persistent. Whenever he had a younger staff member preach for him, he’d schedule time to debrief and encourage him. He’d give constructive criticism and hold his staff to account for improvement.
One of the hardest things I learned to do was coach a team. My dad was the one who taught me how to have the uncomfortable – but necessary – conversations with the people I lead. His greatest pearl of wisdom was this: “If you’re not uncomfortable, the other person wont be uncomfortable. And if the other person isn’t uncomfortable, she wont change.” He was never one to candy-coat confrontation, but he always spoke the truth in the most caring way possible. His intent was never to hurt anyone, but rather to encourage their growth.
3. Good leaders build strong teams
I adore my dad, but there are a lot of things he just isn’t good at. It’s cringe-worthy to watch him trying to find files on the labyrinth of folders on his computer. He isn’t an administrator. And he focuses more on the big picture than the minutia it takes to execute a vision. I know this, but more importantly, he knows this. Rather than ignore his shortcomings, he builds teams of people with strengths that balance his weaknesses. A leader knows when to delegate and when to ask for help. There is a reason for the cabinets that support our national leaders. Obama lacks the foreign policy experience and connections that Hillary Clinton could bring to his team. When I began to delegate and admit weaknesses, I found that my teams grew and that the quality of our programs improved. While they may look pretty, a team of Ryan Kesslers will never make it to the Stanley Cup finals, nor would a team of Luongos.
4. Good leaders know when to flip the bird
There comes a point for every leader when he or she must decide whether or not to cross the Rubicon. The Rubicon is different for each of us. After you’ve built your army and set your course, when you know beyond all shadow of a doubt that you are on the right path, you have to press forward and let nothing deter you. Julius Caesar would have never been Emperor of Rome had he been too afraid to cross the Rubicon. He knew the risks and weighed them for both himself and his men. He knew that if they failed they would be killed as traitors. He knew that if they crossed the Rubicon failure was no longer an option if he wanted to take his men home. Yet, he proceeded because he knew he knew he could win. My father has shown me what it means to take a stand and hold firm for what is right. He’s shown me what it means to cross the Rubicon. He’s shown me what it means to enter the promised land.
Unfortunately, my father recently met the same end as Julius Caesar. (Et tu, Brutus? Et tu?) But during the past five years, I learned some of my most important life lessons. Moreover, my father held me to a higher standard than anyone else who worked for him. And I’m thankful. Because of his integrity in that regard, I am confident in my abilities. I feel strong and empowered because I know that when my father chooses a team member, he will pick the person that he thinks will serve the team best.
I am proud to say that I worked for my father. When I look in the mirror, I see him. When I look at my sloppy penmanship, I see him. And when I crossed my own Rubicon, knowing I would meet with Brutus as well, I did so because I’m just like my father. I’m an uncompromising leader of integrity. I will always speak truth, walk humbly, and seek justice tempered with mercy.