According to some estimates, companies spend as much as $50 billion a year on leadership development in the hope of finding and developing their future leaders.
While that commitment is certainly crucial, in many cases the most important investment in leadership starts way earlier with our first role models: mom and dad.
Take my dad, for example. The son of a bus driver and retail worker from a working class neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, he was the first in the family to attend college, much less graduate from it.
Dad parlayed his first job as manager in the appliance department at a Sears store into a decades-long career that ended with him as a regional manager for Sears service centers across a large swath of Chicagoland.
Day in and day out, he was out the door before sunrise often getting home only after the sun had gone to bed. I’m sure he had days he didn’t feel his best but I never heard him complain about it. There was no mystery to it: Hard work was simply what you did
But it wasn’t all work. Dad coached my sisters’ softball teams, served as commissioner of my Little League, volunteered at church and was unfailingly one of the first to help a neighbor when they needed it, whether it was as simple as sharing a kind word or as big as building a porch. Dad had the tools for both.
While I don’t ever recall talking to him about leadership, I understood where he stood loud and clear. Show up all the time, especially when you feel like you’d rather be anywhere else. You never know when someone will need you.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Life’s no joke but find humor in the challenges. Take responsibility for yourself. When you mess up, own the consequences. Be kind to others — not for what it gets you but simply because everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
As we write in this month’s issue, leadership isn’t simply a set of skills and abilities to be honed and polished. In fact, as artificial intelligence and powerful analytics tools take on the task of chewing through data and information, the so-called “hard” skills of leadership — processing information and managing inputs and outputs — become less and less important. In the not-so-distant future, the traditional tasks of leaders may even be automated.
Where does that leave the role of a leader? Elevated. It goes beyond expertise, business acumen, strategic focus, decision-making and management prowess. Leadership is mission and purpose. It’s about inspiring and motivating others to achieve your shared objectives as well as their own goals. Leadership is about what you do but also how you do it.
Leadership is deeply personal. As I talk to business executives and chief learning officers alike, I am continually struck by how often they mention parents as inspiration for how they lead.
It happened again recently when I spoke to Tom Gartland, former president of North America for Avis Budget. Tom shared how the last phone conversation he had with his father before his sudden death when Tom was 16 motivates him and led him down the path to the message at the center of his book “Lead with Heart.”
Scott Kriens, chairman of Juniper Networks, said his father’s death in 2004 caused him to take a step back from his job at the top of one of Silicon Valley’s most profitable companies and evaluate who he wanted to be as a leader and make authentic and trusting relationships the center of his mission.
My own dad turned 80 in March. Time is short but as we approach the end of our journey together I continue to learn from him. I rely upon his example as I raise my own children.
I’m learning how to deal with deteriorating health with dignity and grace. I continue to see the power of humor to deal with the inevitable heartbreaks, setbacks and challenges that can so easily overwhelm us.
But most of all, I continue to learn that the lessons in life aren’t how much you know but about how you live.
Mike Prokopeak is vice president and editor in chief of Chief Learning Officer magazine. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.