Four-Letter Words of Wisdom

My Dad is a football coach. When I was young, he used to take me to the park with him on Saturdays when the team practiced or had games. I would watch the game and sometimes play with the kids of other coaches and players. I remember this one time when I was about 5 or 6 years old, my Dad let me go off to a nearby playground with some other kids. I was so excited because the playground had this huge slide that I’d had my eye on for weeks! That thing was HUGE – easily 10 feet tall – with those lumps in the slide that help build speed and more excitement. I got in line with the other kids to conquer the slide and became increasingly terrified as it got closer to being my turn. I climbed the ladder with total trepidation and looked over when I reached the summit to see my Dad was watching. He waved at me. I went down the slide and it was absolutely awesome! I ran back in line to do it again and again that day and on every visit to the park after that.

On a recent trip home to New Jersey, I rode past that playground while in the car with my dad. The slide was still there and as huge as ever. Seeing it through grown-up eyes, I marveled at how I ever made it up there. When I mentioned this to my dad, he told me that he was petrified watching me climb the ladder and almost left the sidelines to come grab me off before I fell and broke my neck! I laughed and asked him why he didn’t stop me. He shrugged and said “I had to let you get over your fear and make your own way.”

And that’s what is so great about my Dad. Practical, loyal, capable and responsible to the core, but always unapologetically himself and always makes his own way – and he allows everyone around him to do the same, without judgment or expectation.

My Dad has never been a supervisor or manager. He spent over 30 years as a professional welder, traveling 4-hours round-trip for work. But I have no doubt that he would have been awesome at it. Every night, I would watch and listen as he and my mother debriefed each other about their workdays while watching the evening news before dinner. He always gave great advice. He still does. These are my  favorites …

1)      “Yes means yes. No means no. Maybe or I’ll think about it means just that. Whatever it is, give an answer.” My Dad is always definitive in what he thinks and he
rarely changes his mind. When someone asks him a question or requests a favor,
he responds promptly, even when the answer isn’t favorable. If he needs time to
think or look into the issue to make his decision, he’ll say that – then he will give you a deadline for his response and he’ll respond when he says he is going to. He doesn’t believe it is right to leave people in limbo, waiting or wondering what is going to happen.

  • In my worklife, I follow this example. Whether it is good news or bad news or no news, good managers respect people enough to tell them what is what.

2)      “Sometimes, you gotta go off on mother fuckers just so they know you’ve got it in you.” My Dad has always been quiet and reserved. He’s not all that social, preferring close friendships with key people to being the life of the party. People
have made the mistake of assuming he can’t or won’t speak up for himself. Their
awakening is always a rude one.

  • In HR, we often have to go along to get along to reach our goals. We play nice and take on the social coordinator roles in order to move our agenda. We don’t start fights in HR – but we damn sure need to know how to end them! We have to choose the proper moments to assert ourselves to ensure we aren’t taken for granted or marginalized.

3)      “Always keep your head on the swivel.” My Dad is always aware of his surroundings – the people, the physical environment, and the complicated relationships and histories involved in both. I think it comes from years of playing and coaching football, where you have to be aware of the offense and defense simultaneously as well as any challenges or strife with interpersonal relationships on the team. He is always keenly aware of what is going on around him and how it
impacts everyone.

  • As managers, we have to be aware of the business environment of our organizations as well as the complicated histories, relationships and back-stories of the people we deal with every day. This will help us communicate in the proper time and proper way to achieve optimal effectiveness.

4)      “Don’t assume everything is ‘bullshit.’ There’s all kinds of shit out there: chicken, dog, horse … Make sure you know the difference.” My Dad generally gives people the benefit of the doubt, but has low tolerance for people who over-promise and under-deliver. He has no problem or pause with calling people out very specifically on failure and hypocrisy.

  • In HR, we have to be willing to identify the failures and hypocrisy in our  organizations, then provide practical solutions on how to reverse negative trends.

5)      “I can only feel but so bad when birds get hit by cars. They have wings! They can fly! They really have no business in the street.” My Dad is awesome at packing
stuff, he absolutely makes the best French toast I’ve ever tasted and I’m still
convinced he really knows how to walk between raindrops. But he cannot dance or
sing –and he doesn’t seriously try to do it, either! He has a great sense of
humor about his ineptness and great sense of pride in the things he’s good at.

  • As managers, it is important to expand our skills and try different things. It is just as important to recognize our strengths and what makes us unique, and capitalize on that. Otherwise, we fail to be our best and do our best.

Happy Father’s Day!






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