The Leadership I Learned from My Dad:
- What does the Bible say about that? My dad expected his kids to look to God and the Bible for direction. But he didn’t expect us to be morons about it. Instead he showed us how to study the bible word by word…and pushed us to do so in the original language. He expected us to be biblically literate. And yet, he was still very surprised when we came to different conclusions from him about scripture. But he wasn’t cruel in his denouncement of our interpretations but he was steadfast when he believed us to be in error.
Impact: This taught me that conversation was good, sticking to what I believe is okay, and making room for others with kindness is best. I find I do this every day when debating the right next thing for a product or architecture.
- Look it up As kids we had this set of Encyclopedias that were the bane of my existence. Every time I wanted to know a fact, I would ask my dad, because he knew lots of stuff. Inevitably he would say “Look it up. I didn’t buy those for myself,’ while pointing at the homemade bookshelves housing the thick books from A to Z. I would then do two things: (1) roll my eyes and (2) look it up.
Impact: What he likely knew that I didn’t was that he was making me this incredibly independent person who could figure shit out myself. It probably drove him crazy later when I stopped asking for any advice or help (a failing of mine until recent years) but he’d taught me to figure things out while doing homework, he’d shown me how to logic out problems in math and calculus, and he’d given me the “look it up” directive from the time I could read at 5 years old. Needless to say when I tell my teams to do stuff themselves rather than doing it for them, I’m channeling my inner tired dad, teaching them to go get the data, and mentally saying “look it up.”
- What are you reading? My dad always had a book. ALWAYS. And he believed that a person should always have a book with them because you never knew when you’d have some time to kill. He carried a book in his truck when he was driving, and would read sitting in traffic. One of my most vivid memories of my dad is the way that he would finish a sentence and visually save his place, even as he lifted his eyes to answer one of my 10000 questions of the day. His book was important. I was more important. But he found ways to keep learning all the time. A month before his death, he shared something he’d learned about technology in a book with me over the phone and asked me to validate it. Impact: Books are not a luxury…books are a necessity. Learning is always important and it is my responsibility to be growing and not being stagnant. This is also true in my career. No one is going to force me to keep learning but every day I try to read things that teach me something and spend time with people who help me grow. Never stop learning.
- Hold my Hand When I think of my dad, I often think of his hands because he was good at holding the hands of children well into adulthood. Maybe I think of his hands a lot because mine are female replicas. And if I’m honest, these hands looked good on my dad and have often been a bit of an obsession for me because they aren’t feminine like the hands my sisters inherited from my mother. They are not beautiful, but they are strong. All the nail polish in the world won’t make me a hand model, but like my dad I have used these hands to pat arms kindly, rub backs encouragingly, hold babies lovingly, embrace lovers, and wipe away tears as they fall.
Impact: Sometimes the function of a thing is more important than the beauty of a thing. And in the function comes the beauty. This has not only been true of me in my life, it has been true of the things I’ve built. I’ve not always built the most beautiful parts of a product, but I have built the functional, fast, stable, steady parts.
- Saying I’m Sorry As a kid, my parents were both dreadful at apologies. I don’t actually remember either of them ever apologizing to me for anything. They were a product of their generation and you just didn’t admit you were wrong to a child. Needless to say I had to learn to apologize as an adult living in a dorm with a bunch of girls. In the end, my dad and I said all the things we needed to say to one another. One of those included a round of “I’m so sorry” that had long been needed. And it wasn’t too late. It wasn’t too late to say it and receive forgiveness and absolution. It wasn’t too late to hear “I’m proud of you” from him and “You were always a good dad” from me.
Impact: Be willing to apologize. Even when it’s hard. Even when you think the team should just suck it up and move on. Even when you are pretty sure no one will remember your mistake. I’ve tried to be a person who would apologize both publicly and privately as needed. But I also sometimes wait too long or am too stubborn. It’s never too late to be better. I learned that from him.
My dad’s death has hit me hard. Our relationship was really complicated. But I can take the good with the bad when it comes to him because he was human, and his humanness is more important to me than his perfection. I have always needed him to show me how to live in this brain, with this past, with the intense work ethic, and will of steel I inherited from him.