Tonight, near the very end of a great vacation, I dined on fresh green beans and the star of the show, stuffed shells in meat sauce. It was sublime. And it was prepared completely by a nine and eight year old. My daughters reminded me, perhaps even taught me, about the power of a legacy. They demonstrated the impact a powerful leader can have on the world, in microcosm.
How do I make the leap from stuffed shells to leadership? In a word, my wife. As I prepared my plate, I expected a plate of maudlin food that I would nonetheless rave about. Instead, what I tasted was honest, delicious stuffed shells, flavored with delicate spices, perfectly mixed cheeses and rich sauce. If I had tasted this blind in a restaurant, I would gladly pay money to enjoy the rest of the plateful.
MOTHER AS LEADER
But the journey to this point is the real story here. Their mother, my wife, has not only lavished these girls — and me — with love, but she has taught them skills that will prepare them for self-sufficiency later in life. If you had to boil down a leader’s job to one sentence, is that not it? To teach those you work with to perform competently and flourish even in your absence?
In short, she has demonstrated, in our home, leadership skills that have helped her in several demanding corporate management positions. Every day, she quietly imparts upon them wisdom she has gleaned from her mentors — parents, grandmothers, teachers, pastors — and from her own journey. Today, I realized that she has done it all in a way that has motivated, even excited, our daughters to do it for themselves.
So, it quickly became clear to me. My wife, while holding down a full-time job, serving as the family CFO and COO, and balancing my ridiculous schedule with our other priorities, has also done an astounding job of motivating, educating, creating inspired vision, and building a commitment to high quality. And she did it with two pre-adolescent girls who have not even figured out what they want to do in the morning, much less with their lives.
A LOVING TEACHER MAKES A GREAT LEADER
I wish I could bottle the constant, gentle pressure she has applied every day for the past nine years. That is the level of commitment it took for both of us to enjoy a gourmet meal this evening. It would be rather inaccurate to say she didn’t help prepare it. Instead, I submit that she has been preparing tonight’s meal since 1998, when our oldest was born. The preparation has included daily lessons on life, personal values, faith, and a thousand other things we want them to know when they finally depart this house and stand on their own two feet.
And even their preparation has been preceded by many years that her mother and grandmothers poured into her. And generations past flavored this meal by virtue of the legacies they passed on to their successors: our forefathers.
So you can understand that as I helped myself to seconds, I tasted family reunions past, vacations of years gone by, the love of mothers teaching their children in front of ancient stoves. Pinches of love, pounds of compassion, mounds of caring, and an undying commitment to preserving the pride of generations succeeding on the shoulders of our predecessors. That is what I tasted.
LEADERSHIP IS AN EVERY-DAY, ALL-DAY PURSUIT
So as leaders, we must take my wife’s example. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of expedience and convenience. We cannot be insistent on quality today, while allowing mediocrity to persist tomorrow. We must believe with confidence that what we are teaching, and insisting on from ourselves and our peers and colleagues is based on righteous values. It’s our job to tirelessly coax maximum accountability out of others, while remembering that what we are really doing is two-fold. First, we are honoring the legacy that we inherited by giving our complete selves over to passing it on. And second, we are living and teaching with the passion, values, motivations and commitment to quality needed to maintain and grow that legacy.
That is our job, and my wife taught an enormous life lesson to my kids, but she taught an even bigger one to me about leadership.
And so I close, ready to return to work from vacation, rested, sun-dried, and ready to recommit myself to growing the legacy I inherited both professionally and personally. And that didn’t come from the beach or golf course, but from the woman who stands with me every day. I am indeed blessed to have such a strong leader in my life.