Small Business and Leadership: Thinking About Dad

I spend a lot of time thinking about leadership and how to encourage the best  from the team. There are thousands of books on the topic, a quick google search on “business leadership” returns 971,000 results and I figure there must be a hundred million or more Tweets posted on the subject. But lately (especially with Father’s Day yesterday) my thoughts have been turning to my dad and the lessons I learned from him.

My dad was a complex guy who studied philosophy as an undergrad, went on to a fairly prosperous career in corporate sales with Kodak and eventually turned his creative impulses into a successful second career when he left the business world to pursue photojournalism. He read a great deal, he loved movies and art, he was an always intelligent presence and could quietly and effectively debate current events, politics, and the nature of people. As is common with the sons of immigrants, he tended to be stern with his 4 children, and was not stingy when it came to dispensing the spankings or other punishment. But he was also a loving and affectionate presence, always supportive and always willing to listen when his children needed him.

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The lessons I learned from my father have carried through my life – he taught me a personal value system and (hopefully) instilled a strong sense of right and wrong. He taught me about parenting and the importance of being a better father then he was; the idea of generational improvement was a constant theme for him. But he also taught me about work ethic, communicating clearly, the importance of ideas in a person’s life, and the value of respect for others.

He taught nuts and bolts: the logistics of dealing with a family of six, the scheduling, the chores, the “quality control,” were all important to him and he passed that along to me. Not only were we required to clean the house every Saturday morning, but he  made sure we were cooperating with our siblings, and he closely inspect our work, making corrections (sometimes not so gently) and always praising us for quality. Feedback was a priority for him and he did not hesitate to give it, positive and negative. When we did a poor job, he would call us back to the house to have it done over and when we did a good job, he was there to let us know that too. My dad was also a master of the motivational incentive: if we wanted desert we had to finish dinner, or if we wanted to stay up an extra 30 minutes at bedtime we could, but only if we used the time to read. He was a great one for encouraging teamwork – chore time was inviolate, but swapping was fine and working together to get it done faster was celebrated.

My dad understood the concept of a company culture (in this case applied to the family). We had LOTS of activities together, regular family meetings were held when something needed to be discussed, and we had (and loved) our favorite meals and restaurants (though eating out was rare). He instilled the value of teamwork and encouraged his children to do things together. I’ll never forget the Halloween when he and mom had us all 4 dressed as a family of mummies for trick-or-treat. These were all things that created a strong bond among us, a bond that I still share with my siblings today.

Unfortunately, my dad died young and the lessons ended early, but I greatly value the things I learned from him. The lessons have stayed with me not only in my role as a father to two sons of my own, but as a leader and business manager for almost 30 years. As small business owners we can all look to our dads for inspiration, guidance, and modeling in how we lead our teams, how we interact with our customers, and how we lead our professional lives. So, a day after Father’s day, I hope you remembered to thank dad for everything he gave you that allows you to do a great job with your own business. Thanks, Dad!

Film still: Mufasa and Simba, The Walt Disney Company

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