Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ode to my Dad: part 2

Ode to my Dad: part 2

It is widely written that grief is a process, unique to every person, often coming in waves of happy and sad memories brought on by poignant and insignificant triggers. That description of “process” and “waves” is most certainly my reality after losing my Dad, now a bit more than two weeks ago. For me, I have been drawn to pull out old photo albums and mementos, wanting to remember and embrace some of the “old stories” of my family from years gone by. As I was sorting through some old papers in my bedside nightstand, I came across a letter that my father sent me more than seven years ago for my 45th birthday. It was a short letter, written in his clear steady hand writing, from an earlier time in his fight with Parkinson’s disease. After wishing me a happy birthday, he added a few lines of “advice” that made me smile last week, amidst tears, thinking of his good natured encouragements:

“I am tempted to give you a list of “advice”, but would boil it down to this:
• Just continue to be yourself
• Be a leader by your example
• Honesty, sincerity, and your love of people are the route of your life
• Watch out for those “management fads”
• And finally, keep your sense of humor!”

While I am tempted to take each of his points and break them down into action oriented connections for all of us today (maybe fodder for a future essay), I am struck by the authentic nature of his good natured advice. He wanted only good things for me, and over his career as an electrical engineer primarily for ALCOA, he learned a number of important lessons of leadership that he wanted to pass along. I remember clearly how he talked about certain of his bosses/leaders that really knew the work and the team and how that authentic connection made them effective and admired. Equally he talked about other bosses/leaders from the opposite end of the spectrum, more focused on “managing up” or trying the latest management “technique” (see “management fads” above) than really working on the challenges at hand. One story he talked about was of a boss that had fully adopted the principles of the “60 second Manager,” a popular “management fad” of the 1970’s. It seemed impossible to my dad how someone would/could expect to handle a situation in less than a minute, when the technical problem at hand could not even be described accurately (analytically/mathematically) in less than sixty minutes!

As I continue to dig through old papers and photos, I am certain that I will come across more nuggets of insight and perspective. For me the process is not solely nostalgic as the above quote suggests, reminding me today of ways to be a more effective professional and leader. Take a few minutes yourself, either with the “advice” from my Dad, or from your fathers or mothers, or your friends, mentors, or bosses and look for their “advice” on how to be more effective. Not only will it do your heart a bit of good (as it is doing for me), but you just might find a pearl of wisdom to apply to your life today.

Post script: Over the past few weeks I have received calls, notes, texts, and letters from a wide variety of family and friends and I can’t overstate their impact. Each message has brought me comfort and support, and I am deeply grateful to everyone who has reached out, thank you all!

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