I observed my father become an incredible leader as he worked his way up from the rank and file to become an executive in a company that does more than $70B a year in revenue.
And our family moved as his career grew and went with him even when it meant moving a family of 7 internationally to Japan. I saw him in a variety of roles and although he worked hard and oftentimes late I do not remember him missing much of the weekly family events – he may have missed a few of my soccer games here and there but I can’t actually remember a single time he wasn’t sitting in the stands. The point is that his presence was inexorable.
But it would be many, many years later that I would begin to recollect and understand how much he had modeled for me as to what a great leader does and does not do. One of the things that he did constantly was find opportunities for himself to close the gap between his position in the organization and those that reported to him. In other words he wanted to create such a strong relational framework that he would do almost anything for them.
And he really, really did. A consistent occurrence at our house was corporate dinner events that he would throw for his staff and employees. He would invite tons of people to our home to dine and to simply have fun in a context that was light-hearted, warm, and relationship-driven.
He would also challenge me and my siblings to be bold and introduce ourselves to the guests throughout the evening; this was especially important since all of them had already heard stories and seen pictures of us as they lined his desk back at the office.
One early evening many years ago at yet-another dinner event I encountered a gentleman who I had heard of via my father who had worked closely with him to “break through” some major corporate challenges where many had barely survived the resulting outcause. My father had somehow united political rivals in a heroic attempt to save the company from internally combusting and had flawlessly won over people with relational perfection. This event was, at least unofficially, a celebration of the company’s survival.
I do not remember the gentleman’s name nor do I remember all that he said but he stated something, with an exceptionally long pause in the middle, that I will never forget:
John, your father is… … … just that type of guy.
I knew what he meant because he was not the first to offer the same sentiment. My father was the people’s choice, a leader of leaders, and a servant to all. He won people over with compassion, not force, and lead people by example through kindness and a giving heart and through modeling this would implicitly ask of them for the same in return.
He was, in the very best ways, that type of guy that people respected even if they did not share the same opinion or position. The first to arrive, the last to leave, and there was never anything beneath his role and responsibility.
I will never be like my father for a variety of different reasons but I hope that I can practice and continue to get better at a few of the things that he modeled for me. One tactical thing that I have adopted as my own are the dinner events and dinner parties that he’d throw for his staff – and so I did it again this past week for the Atlanta-based Iron Yard team.
Here are a few pics of that evening:
Thankfully every single team member was able to join as well as their families and loved ones – we had a great time of just relaxing, eating well, and celebrating the work that the team has already accomplished. I think it was also a celebration of just life in general; why the hell not?
More specifically I am incredibly blessed and thankful for Jo who was the first person that I recruited onto the Atlanta team and has been a foundational part of building the culture here from Day #1. Shelby for having moved from Colorado to change lives when she could have said “Yes” to a million other opportunities. For Sarah who has quite literally saved my life with her role as the real (a million times better than I could ever do!) Campus Director and for Laura’s new tactical and supportive role for the largest metropolitan campus in the Southeast – she’s going to make it sing! And also for Heidi who has signed up for a TA role for Jo and will provide incredible value for the cohorts!
And last but certainly not least to all the spouses and families that also said “Yes” when we offered these staff members a spot on the team since they would not have been able to join if it were not for their obvious and tangible support!
We couldn’t have done it without them and I see that as plain as day as a leader in our growing organization. I think this is one of the reasons why my father had these types of events as it was one simple way to express this appreciation to the staff and team that makes it all happen.
You see, I want to be that type of guy, just like my father, that takes nothing for granted, that loves and appreciates deeply the people that have given their time and resources to make a crazy vision a reality, and to be that guy who is understood as a constant source of celebration for them and their families.
If I can succeed at this then I think we will all be a great success and I can continue to model for my own children what it means to be a servant-leader, just as my father did for me.