Leadership Lessons From Mom

A life changing event a couple of weeks ago prompted me to dedicate this blog to the lessons I learned from my mom over the years. She helped define me as a person, a father, and yes a business leader. I was honored to deliver the eulogy at her funeral recognizing the wonderful life she lived.

I’ve given countless speeches and presentations in my career, and typically I focus on the content knowing the delivery will go fine. This time I had a lifetime of content; however, the concern was about my delivery.

As a “first-timer” on the journey of losing a family member, I got to experience first-hand what that looks and feels like. I’ve seen many of my friends and co-workers go through it, and I probably said something like “I know how you feel.” I guess I really didn’t. Like many things in life, often times you have to experience them before you can “really” relate to the situation.

In the events following my mom’s passing, I could personally relate to what the significance of some of my past lessons in leadership really meant to me at this time. I’d like to share a few thoughts with you:

1.)    Work-life balance actually is important.
You’ve heard me talk about business metrics and the significance of keeping score, but how do you apply a metric to work-life balance?  I’m not sure you can, but you’ll know it when you feel it. My mom’s passing made me realize how important a company’s commitment to work-life balance is. My brothers and I had the flexibility to participate in all of the doctor’s appointments associated with her year-long cancer treatment. This was a reminder to me of how important it is to allow flexibility in your workplace so employees can be more active participants in life beyond work. So make the time to get involved with your kids’ activities, plan family get-togethers and visit your parents and grandparents more frequently. When life gets out of balance, commit to getting things back on track. You’ll be glad you did.

2.)    Personal relationships in business matter.
I very much appreciated the outpouring of support I received from co-workers, customers, vendors and other associates after my mom died. The notes, the calls, the memorials, the flowers – they all were noticed and they all meant so much to me. I received more hugs from my business circle than I have had in my lifetime. One of our customers drove nearly two hours to attend my mom’s funeral – what a nice surprise. It spoke volumes and reminded me that whether it’s a phone call, card or other caring gesture, taking the time to reach out to someone personally matters, often more than we know.

3.)    Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
No matter how many speeches I have given as CEO, none of them prepared me for my mom’s eulogy. When Dad asked me to “say a few words,” I knew I would be standing in front of the church on the day of the funeral. And I know that Mom would have wanted me to do that, too. This certainly reinforced my belief for the need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I felt both the pressure of doing a good job in front of family, friends, and business associates and emotionally making it through the delivery. That was uncomfortable. Leaders are often called upon to do uncomfortable things; you might as well get comfortable with it.

4.)    Tough times reveal people’s true character.
I may have given the eulogy, but it was my brother, Greg, who rose as a leader during my mom’s battle with cancer. He documented every doctor appointment and the necessary follow-up and ensured that every member of our family was informed at every step. While he did not carry a title, he was a leader in every sense of the word. I also gained a strong appreciation for the professionals at CentraCare Health System (our largest client) and the care they provided my mom over the past year. My family felt a genuine connection with their people at all levels - from the volunteers…to the hospice providers…to the physicians. In fact, some of them even attended the wake. I now have a better appreciation for how people show their true character during our most difficult times.

Business really is personal and I have never believed that more than I do today. I encourage you to prioritize what matters most and continue to pursue your work-life balance. Life – and leadership – are defined by the choices we make each day. We need to live what we’ve learned – starting with Mom.

Topics: Leadership, Lessons