April 2009: A FATHER'S LEADERSHIP LEGACY
My Father died two months ago today. While I usually address business issues in this newsletter, this month I want to share adapted excerpts from the eulogy I prepared for his memorial service as testimony to the premise I often make to my clients and colleagues: The life you live today is the legacy you leave for others tomorrow! I learned a lot of lessons from my Father, that have served me well in my business and personal life, that I share with you today in the hopes that you will use this opportunity to reflect on the lessons you have learned from your own parents, teachers and mentors.
My first lesson in life from my Father was: You can be an "All-American" in whatever you choose to do in life...even if you're a girl! That seems so obvious today, but back in the 1950's it certainly wasn't. I was supposed to be a boy, named after Kyle Rote, the All American and New York Giants football star. But the fact that his first born was a girl didn't deter my Father. I learned to throw a football "like a boy"; if I brought home an A-, was asked why it wasn't an A; and if I couldn't be on the football field as a quarterback, I'd better be the best cheerleader on the sidelines. Although sometimes a curse, having such early and high expectations from him has served me well.
A second lesson I learned was the value of discipline and hard work as key ingredients for success. Although only 5'8" tall, my Father played offensive end at Denison University for the later to be infamous Ohio State football coach, Woody Hayes. He was a scratch golfer for most of his playing years, spending hours practicing at the driving range and on the putting greens. In the early years of our family, at Christmas time my Father would hold down three jobs so "Santa" could give us all the gifts we ever could want. I never learned to depend on "luck" for winning. I knew I could have whatever I wanted--but I was going to have to work hard and work smart for it.
A third lesson I learned was the importance of competitive sports. My Father was an 11 letter high school athlete--playing football, basketball, tennis and golf. When I was very young (not being able to play football!) I was encouraged to play summer league softball and became a competitive swimmer. Sitting with my Father listening to Ohio State football and basketball games and watching the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoons, I learned the rules of the game and the value of teamwork--and experienced the thrill of winning and the pain when our teams were defeated. He taught me that no matter whether I played, I needed to learn the rules of sports, so I would enjoy watching and talking about the games and matches in social and business settings. Little did I know then, that I would write a book on how to create, lead and develop "world class teams"!
A fourth lesson I learned was "it's not just what you know, it's who you know". My Father seemed to know everyone--from CEOs to the janitor and treated each with respect. Whenever he could, he would use his contacts to help us, whether it was getting us into Ohio State basketball practices or helping me get an interview for my first job at Ohio Bell Telephone. He didn't give it a name, but today I now coach others on the value of continuously networking.
Oh there were other less critical lessons learned, like: "Don't bother going to an Ohio State football game if you don't get there in time to see "the best damned band in the land come out of the tunnel" or "always keep 2 hands on the football". And I learned to appreciate over the years the accomplishments and talents of my Father's "heroes" such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Jack Nicklaus.
Maybe the biggest lesson I learned from my Father was around something he didn't accomplish. My Father's biggest dream was to become a professional golfer. However, in the mid-1950's these golfers did not make much money and my Father and Mother had three children to raise. By age 50, my Father had his first of several heart attacks and ongoing health issues. He never did achieve that life goal, and I believe, over the years came to regret it. Perhaps that's why, when Carylyn, our daughter, who is becoming an accomplished Junior Olympic swimmer, talks about becoming an Olympian we don't tell her about the slim odds of accomplishing such a dream and we continuously encourage her hard work and celebrate her progress.
What are the leadership lessons you have learned and how are you communicating those to your family, friends and colleagues? My Father never wrote his leadership lessons down and I regret I didn't write this newsletter earlier so that he could explicitly see the legacy he was leaving with me.
And remember this: The life you live today is the legacy you leave for others tomorrow...so lead your life, don't just live it!
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