One thing that seemed odd during our first trip was that Tom called his wife and ended the conversation with “I love you”. It was all strange to me because I had never heard my parents say that to each other (at least not in front of their children) and I thought that only younger couples would say that. (Asian families tend to hold back on positive emotions.) I asked Tom why he said that to his wife and he simply replied that he always ended their conversations with those words and because he meant them. Over the years, I learned more about Tom and what the most important things in life were. Tom was a hard worker and also a good man who was kind, truthful, and caring. He talked fondly about his wife, children, and grandchildren. I learned the wonderful story about how he hitch-hiked a ride from a couple when he was in the army – they introduced him to his future wife and became his in-laws.
In many ways, Tom was a father to me. I thought hard about what great, insightful attributes that my real father and my “Irish American father” had so - that I could write about the leadership skills that they taught me. I could not think of any.
What they taught me is far more important.
When we pass away, no one will talk about how many companies you took over, how many people you supervised, how much money you made, or how many consecutive quarters that you beat plan. Your eulogy will be about how good a husband or wife, a father or mother, son or daughter, sibling or friend you were, how many people you helped along the way, and what difference you made to others whom you touched.
A Shameful Lesson from My Past
I worked in my father’s restaurant in my youth and worked in the kitchen for a while. One night, I complained to my father that a dishwasher named “Ah Bun” was slow and should be fired. Ah Bun was old and I could wash dishes twice as fast as him. I felt that he wasn’t pulling his weight. My father looked at me and said, “Son, you need to think about his situation. Do you notice Ah Bun’s facial complexion? He suffered serious burns in an accident a long time ago and is trying to make enough money for medical treatment. Ah Bun’s life is not easy. You need to think about others.” Shamefully, I didn’t think or care about “Ah Bun” as a human being or learn about his situation.
Now years later, I continuously undergo “leadership training” and read about the latest “5 Things that All Great Leaders Do”, etc. I can say that the majority of leadership and management teachings lack compassion and the human element. I hear about people laid off with their CEOs telling them that “It’s nothing personal”….yet, I cannot think of anything more personal to someone losing his or her job. Jack Welch (aka “Neutron Jack”) is admired for his “business skills” – any idiot can let go of people to balance the books. When Jack became CEO in 1981, GE had 411,000 employees. When Welch left 20 years later, it had just 313,000 employees. GE lost nearly 100,000 jobs during a tenure that spanned two of the most robust periods of economic growth in American business history. Yet this is the guy who people read about for leadership.
While we continue to talk about UI, UX, CVP, Branding, Price Elasticity of Demand, please remember to laugh, to love, to care, and make the lives of those around you a little better. Think about what you want people will say about you at the end of your life - and live accordingly. As my father admonished me, "You need to think about others".
(I hope that you're knocking a bucket of golf balls up there, Tom.)