5 Powerful Leadership Lessons I Learned the Day My Father Died

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My Father died one year ago today. I’m still reeling.  For 5 years he battled Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). Although the disease is terminal, somehow I believed he would beat it.  Of course I was wrong.

In the final days of my Father’s life we knew he was dying. Frankly, so did he. Our family flew in from around the country and hunkered down. In those final days, I learned more about life than my previous 39 years. Today I’d like to share that with you.

1. Family first

My family are Type-A over achievers. When Dad was in his final days, everyone dropped everything.  We spent days in my parents home. Aunts cooked, Uncles shopped, cousins cleaned, nieces ran errands, dear friends lent a shoulder to cry on.

Every leader makes decisions for themselves, and for their staff.  Do you allow for your people to have space in their life for family, or no?

2. The petty things mean nothing

Petty arguments that had once hung in the air at family gatherings dissipated immediately.  We focused on my Father, and our love for him. Daily annoyances, arguments and frustrations, melted away. Replaced by warm memories, laughter and story telling.

Leaders know that the little annoyances can build up, but if we can put them aside when it matters, we’ll be ok.

3. What society deems successful is just wrong.

For days we surrounded my Father.  I would step back to observe him. He was weak, but he was happy.

He called for my Mother to be by his side. He never spoke of his bank account, the titles he held, his home, or his car. Never. Not once.  I thought, that this is real success.

Leaders strive to convey life lessons. To impart wisdom. We also strive to build our businesses.  Realizing that it’s not all about the money, can be a pivotal moment for your business and your team.

4. Laughter is the best medicine.

Dad was getting weaker, and becoming hard to understand.  But we knew he wanted to see his Grandfather’s tambourine.

My Uncle Joe brought it with him one day while visiting. Dad asked my Brother Mark to hold it in front of him. We all waited for a profound life lesson from Dad. Nothing.

My cousin Trish grabbed it from my Brother, and said “no, like this.” Making the tambourine come alive. Dad lit up. We all laughed. For a moment the laughter transcended the disease.

Leaders have to play. Being playful in the office and laughing together bonds our team, and lightens us.

5. What you say matters.

My Father’s last words to me were “keep up the good work.” I hold those words close to my heart. They’re my mantra for my business and personal life alike.

As leaders, sometimes we blurt out what first comes to mind. We don’t realize that what we say can limit, or uplift.

I hope these lessons he taught me resonate for you, your life, and your career.  I hope you keep up your good work.