A Lesson in Dignity

My parents have taught me many lessons over the years.   I joke with them that I’m amazed how wise they’ve become as I’ve gotten older.   But as I get older, I’ve noticed that those lessons sometimes come when I least expect them – and last week was no different.

Last week, my Dad called.  Our phone conversation started off pretty normal.  After making sure everything was going well with me, he let me in on some news.

My Dad informed me that his company was downsizing and he had just been laid off from work.

I must admit – a whole host of emotions occur when someone close gives you news like this.  I ran the gamut and experienced everything from shock to concern to anger.

But what happened next was truly a life lesson in dignity.

As he spoke, I took note of several things.

My Dad was calm.  As I think about it, I wonder if I’d be that calm if I was just let go from my job.  He was very composed and his voice was soothing and relaxed.

My Dad was not angry.  He said that he didn’t blame anyone for the situation.  He didn’t take it personally.  It just was what it was.  He explained the company’s situation, economy, challenges and in the end that they (the company) had to make a decision.

My Dad was at peace with the situation.  He informed me that things happen for a reason, and clearly there was a reason for this to happen.  My Dad is a man of strong faith and knows that God has a greater plan for his life.

My Dad is close, but not quite ready to retire – he told me that he was going to search for the opportunity in the situation.  And that he was going to take advantage of it to make sure his next step better positions them [my parents] for the next chapter in their life.

My Dad took the high road.  Probably one of the most impacting parts of his story was when he told me about his boss having to terminate his employment.  He said that while he had known his boss for a good many years and they were friends, he had recently been restructured and his boss had only been his boss for about a week.

His boss and an HR rep sat my Dad down that afternoon.  My Dad already knew what was coming.  He said his boss was clearly upset by the situation and could barely talk.  When he did speak, he spoke quietly.  Then my Dad did something very cool.  He reassured his boss and told him it was okay.  He told him that he knew it wasn’t his fault.  In essence, he gave his boss permission to carry out his duty.

Knowing my Dad, I can mentally picture him sitting there with his employers.  His head held high – a compassionate look on his face – with a half-grin telling the weary messenger – “It’s okay.  Go ahead.”

My Dad left his company with dignity.  He did it with no shame or embarrassment.  He did it with the satisfaction of knowing he had contributed greatly to his organization. He did it with poise and pride.  He did it like I’d expect of a great man.

And, in a son’s eyes, my Dad is a great man.  He’s taught me much.  And I love him dearly.

While this is a very personal story, I wanted to share because there were several lessons above about how to think and act when life knocks you down.

One of the most valuable lessons is one my parents taught me growing up:  You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react.

I have taught and re-taught that lesson to many (and reminded myself of it many times).  To see it in practice by the one who taught it to me in such an extreme circumstance is absolutely inspiring.

The next time, I find myself face to face with a difficult dilemma – I will remember this story.  I will remember my Dad.

How will you react when faced with a difficult challenge?


Spread a Little Joy

It has been said that true happiness can only be attained by first helping others find peace. With a seemingly endless parade of problems coming at us from all sides, it can be easy to focus on our own issues and not on others.  The fact is though; we live in an entwined society and even something as simple as moods are contagious and interconnected.  By simply helping others find happiness we may find that we are not only able to improve the lives of others, but that we find our own joy in helping others that lifts our mood as well.

As leaders, it is important to spread joy.  It’s a great exercise in servant leadership.  People are looking to you for inspiration.  Often times we may not be able to solve others’ personal problems, but we can definitely help improve the situation, at least for the moment.  I believe that most people genuinely want to be happy.  And happy people are both productive and enjoyable to be around, which makes a better workplace.  

So, as a leader, are you spreading joy?

Here are five simple ways that you can spread joy in the workplace.

  1. Go out of your way to spontaneously do something nice for someone.  Hold the door or elevator for someone.  When you see someone carrying a heavy load, help them.  Help someone clean up after a meeting.  Randomly pay for someone’s lunch at the checkout or pick up their lunch dishes for them.
  2. Leave a note.  Express your thanks or write something inspiring on a sticky note, thank you note, sheet of copy paper, or white board. A hand written note means much more than an email, text, or IM (especially today).  I have one former direct report that also leaves a card for a free ice cream cone in her notes.  Yum!
  3. Purposefully praise someone in front of others.  Go out of your way to say something nice to someone in front of their peers, colleagues, direct reports, boss, or even better…their family.  When you see someone with their spouse or kids, say something great about them.  For example, “You know your mom is awesome, right!?”  “Your husband is one outstanding guy!”
  4. Acknowledge someone.  Say hello.  Wave.  Slap a high five.  Shake a hand.  Give that “what’s up” head nod.  Wink.  Do whatever you do (as long as it isn’t creepy), but acknowledge others.  Most people want to be acknowledged in a positive manner.
  5. Smile!  Smiles are contagious!  Give a cheesy grin.  Laugh.  Giggle.  Chuckle.  Smile….and others will smile with you.

THE CHALLENGE:  If you are new to this and this isn’t your normal operating mode, I challenge you to do one of the above deliberately at least twice a day.  You can spread it out; once in the morning and once in the afternoon to start.  The fact is though; the more you do it, the more it becomes natural, and the more it becomes natural, the more people you positively effect in the course of your day.

So, are you up to the challenge?  What else can you do to spread joy in the workplace?



A Lesson in Graciousness and Servant Leadership

A friend of mine shared this story that was posted on CNN and I thought it was a fantastic display of servant leadership and graciousness.

In reading the below story, I wonder if the participants ever would have thought this would have ended up in national news.  Think what kind of story this would have been if the participants would have been snobby, uncaring or arrogant.

It doesn’t matter how great you think you are or great you may be, true leaders understand that serving others is the greatest way to lead and then act on it.

What kind of story are people telling about your actions?




4-star general, 5-star grace

CNN -February 13, 2011- Written by Bob Greene

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Graciousness can pay priceless dividends.

And it doesn’t cost a thing.

You may have heard the story about what happened between White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Four-Star Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli at a recent Washington dinner.

As reported by the website Daily Caller, Jarrett, a longtime Chicago friend of President Obama, was seated at the dinner when a general — later identified as Chiarelli, the No. 2-ranking general in the U.S. Army hierarchy, who was also a guest at the gathering — walked behind her. Chiarelli was in full dress uniform.

Jarrett, apparently only seeing Chiarelli’s striped uniform pants, thought that he was a waiter. She asked him to get her a glass of wine.

She was said to be mortified as soon as she realized her mistake, and who wouldn’t be? But the instructive part of this tale is what Chiarelli did next.

Rather than take offense, or try to make Jarrett feel small for her blunder, the general, in good humor, went and poured her a glass of wine. It was evident that he wanted to defuse the awkward moment, and to let Jarrett know that she should not feel embarrassed.

As Chiarelli wrote in an e-mail to CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr:

“It was an honest mistake that ANYONE could have made. She was sitting, I was standing and walking behind her and all she saw were the two stripes on my pants which were almost identical to the waiters’ pants — REALLY. She apologized and will come to the house for dinner if a date can be worked out in March.”

Now, even if you’ve never met Chiarelli or followed him in the news, you have to be impressed with him after hearing that story. With his lofty rank in the military, he could have given Jarrett the deep freeze, reproached her and corrected her. But he poured her the wine — “It was only good fun,” he wrote to Starr — and invited her to a meal at his home. He came out of the incident as a decent and magnanimous person.

It’s easy to do, if you care about other people’s feelings.

[There are more examples in the original article, which you can access via this link to CNN.]

What Gen. Chiarelli did though was to demonstrate, instinctively and in an instant, what it means to be a big person.

The rest of us may never reach the exalted status of those three men. But kindness knows no social stratum. Every day, we’re given the choice. Consideration? It’s free of charge. It can echo forever.

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