Many times, leadership finds you.
There were times I chose to stay away from the crown, yet the crown was always, at some point, placed on my head.
There were also times that I wanted the crown, but I didn’t get it. So I went after it.
This natural move towards leadership for me started very early. My father was a leader of men, a man who has inspired me to be the person I am today. Throughout his life, he has been a business leader, entrepreneur and while his management style left a ton to be desired, leadership found him, again and again, until one day, he took the crown and never looked back.
And heavy was that crown. I saw how leadership and the responsibility behind it affected my father, because when the shit hit the fan, he had to clean it up. It took it’s toll. He struggled with other parts of his life because he did prioritize his business life and career first. Every time he tried to turn it down, it still came for him, and so, this was his role in life.
I didn’t realize the burden he had to shoulder until one day, after I had agreed to work for him in 1998, he sat me down and showed me all he was responsible for.
It blew my fucking mind.
He had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Not only his family, but his friends, the people he hired at his business, his business partners, his carriers, his customers, EVERYTHING.
He had a list he wrote out to me very early on of 25 things that he had to remember every week for his business to succeed. I keep this list, now 25 years old, on my desk in plain sight every day. It’s a testament to his leadership style, and while it could be rough, he’s been successful in everything he’s done.
I always wondered why my father was in a bad mood most days. It’s because of what he had to shoulder.
I never understood it until I took over for him after he retired. It’s a tough burden to bear, but one that he bore for over 35 years. I used to be so critical of him because I just didn’t get what he was doing. It wasn’t sinking in, but finally did when I took the helm. And fuck was it hard.
You don’t sleep well, knowing you’ve got people counting on you to show up.
You always fret, because you’re not sure about all the unknowns.
Your setbacks could be fatal to the business.
You are always on. ALWAYS.
Too many folks want to be a leader without the consequences of being a leader. It’s great to win on the battlefield, but remember there was a losing general.
Especially in business, leadership is vital to it’s success. And that means you have to be aware of everything, plan accordingly, and steward the ship through all the bad weather, as well as the sunny days.
You command those who respect you. You gain respect by being in the trenches with your people.
You command fealty through your ability to weather these storms.
My father was a tough boss, but he also led us through some very difficult times, because he knew what I didn’t know, and he acted on it. He saw the big picture.
This makes me look up to him all the more, and his example taught me what it meant to be a leader.
Leaders Are Made
My father had a hand in my life early on, in high school. His leadership in all areas of his life got me to take on leadership roles. The first real opportunity was in school.
There isn’t a more textbook example for how I became a leader of men but for my story of my band career, one my father supported whole heartedly.
I don’t have some legendary meteoric rise story to tell, it’s one where I was the band geek that decided that I wanted more.
In my early high school days, I was a fucking nerd. No doubt. I had not yet understood what it took to be a leader, hell, I didn’t even care to show up to school most days, but I got into marching band and music in general (playing the trombone) and found that I loved it.
I wasn’t a leader, wasn’t thinking about being one, but my natural attraction to music and being able to enjoy something besides video games got me hooked. And as naturally occurs, as I was enjoying what I was doing, I naturally attracted people to my banner, regardless of what it was, but I developed some friendships to where I was the pace setter. As I participated more in marching band, my leadership skills grew. I would run practices with my fellow trombones, and when my senior mentor got drum major her senior year, I took over the section with baritones, tubas, and trombones looking to me for leadership.
My senior year, my opportunity came up for drum major. It was a role I coveted, so I prepared long and hard for the interview. When the day came, I sat and thought I did extremely well. However, I didn’t get drum major. I mishandled one small answer that cost me the role, and I was pissed about it.
But, the missed opportunity provided me with motivation to be the best damn section leader ever.
So, rather than stew in my disappointment, I decided to step up. My father encouraged me to keep fighting, keep showing up, and keep being present. That’s how leaders are forged.
I would be the guy who got the band out for warm ups. I would be the guy who played the best, taught the newbies the best, and worked the hardest. I got a solo for one of our performance songs from “Les Misérables” and continued to work my ass off. It was to the point that I was outworking the drum major. I had a major grudge over not getting picked to be drum major, so I took that and pushed myself to be the leader I could be, and humbly not overshadowing the true leader.
The results I got blew me away. I became a part of 7 different performance groups (jazz band, pep band, concert band, marching band, symphonic band, orchestra, and musical pit orchestra), and led every damn last one. I was far from the shy nerdy guy in my freshman year, I was in command of my trade and owned every damn minute of it. I shot up in height, now at 6’4″ from 5’7″ in freshman year, and I was exuding confidence.
It resulted in a sweep in the band department awards that year, including the coveted John Phillip Sousa award for most outstanding band member. I was so happy, as my father looked on as I accepted the awards.
And I hadn’t been looking for any of it. As a dorky freshman, I was just going through the motions. But after I developed a true love for something and went after it.
The best part about all of this, is my father watched as I did it. He supported me in my endeavors and encouraged me. I love to tell this story because it truly was the first time I had taken command of something, anything, and my father got to see my growth into a man first hand.
5 Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned From My Father
The lessons I learned from my band days were lessons that continued to be given when I went to work for my father. And it was leadership school every damn day. Good or bad, class was in session when my father went to battle to try and build a business. He really taught me so many lessons that I take into everything I do today. They’re the usual leadership lessons, but he showed me in real time what these lessons mean to building and maintaining a business, a family, and a life.
And here are just a few of them I’ll share:
- Leaders aren’t always popular
I’ve been called an asshole by many an employee over the years, and it’s one thing that I pride myself on. I don’t mean you HAVE to be a jerk ass to people, but sometimes, doing what’s right for your business and the people you are in charge of isn’t common knowledge, and you may have to make some decisions that won’t be popular. But if you aren’t looking out for your business or even yourself, what the hell are you even here for?
2. You will make mistakes.
You will be asked to make split second decisions and many of those decisions will be wrong. Your job is to minimize the risk and fallout from those decisions. It’s okay to be bold and take risks, but be very careful as you are playing with the livelihoods of people in your employ. They put their trust in you to lead and guide them. Stop playing with fire.
3. Trust your instincts
You are in the position of leader for a reason. You have earned the trust of people who are counting on you to make the decision. You have some skill, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be where you are. Trust your gut and make decisions based on what you feel is the right.
4. Choose your advisors wisely.
A leader cannot properly lead without trustworthy people around them. You must choose your advisors wisely. Look who’s been around you and has your best interests at heart, because they are inextricably tied to you and your success.
5. Stand up for your beliefs.
A leader will attract a following by being cemented in their beliefs. You operate with a set of values, morals, and convictions. Stay with them, even when everyone else is against you.
My father taught me so much about all of these lessons, by his own mistakes or by his own wins. Over the two decades I worked for him, I saw it all, I saw his struggles, I saw his triumphs, but all in all, I saw what he did to operate in a hostile environment, and it took balls of steel to do many of the things he did.
I’m sure he was scared at times, but he also stepped forward and forged his life, business, and world against some of the toughest things life can throw at you. And he did it many times, with a huge smile.
His influence on me as a leader can’t be discounted. I have no regrets having been with my father in both a family and professional setting for a quarter of a century. Much of what I’ve learned from him has been learned at the other end of an ass chewing, but he believed in himself so much, and got so frustrated when those who worked for him didn’t see his vision, that he would get upset.
But it’s because he cared so much for what he was doing.
A leader without heart isn’t a leader, they’re a pariah. He’s holding a chair for someone else, and you’re doomed to follow them to failure. A charismatic leader, someone who would do anything to help you find the way, even go into battle with you, is what you want.
And that was my father to a tee. There were days I cussed him under my breath, but there were other days I truly looked up to him, because I finally understood what he was dealing with, and finally understood what he was trying to do. He was trying to protect his family, trying to build his vision, and trying to take care of those who trusted him.
He is and was a true leader, and I’ll always respect him for what he did.
I love you, Pop.
Thank you for showing me how to take command of my life.
And thank you for all you did to help me become the man I am today.