“Work hard and be a leader!” Every day when we were growing up, my dad would send my brother and I out the door with those words. It became almost a joke—like many of the other phrases and quips he repeated so often. “You gotta laugh at yourself!” was another favorite. He certainly lived what he quipped—for many of the years I can remember, Dad left the house before seven and often didn’t get home until after six. He somehow still found time to run for the school board, umpire at baseball games, and help with science-fair projects. He worked hard and certainly held positions of leadership. But still, for many years, I never really understood what he meant by “work hard and be a leader”—or why he thought it was important enough to say it to us every day as we went out the door.
Certainly, I thought I understood “work hard.” But “be a leader”? Who would follow me? I was a geek, a non-athletic, not-particularly-popular braniac. The last thing I wanted to do was call more attention to myself by taking on a leadership role. So, for many years, I just called “Thanks, Dad” over my shoulder as I walked out the door—and then promptly forgot it, my mind on “more important” things.
Since Dad died, I’ve often thought about those little quips. I’ve also thought a lot about him…and I think I’ve finally figured out what he meant by “work hard and be a leader.”
It’s not about being famous, or powerful, or controlling—Dad certainly wasn’t any of those things. He rarely preached or lectured. Instead, he led by example. He taught me to try my hardest at whatever I’m doing. He taught me to take responsibility for my actions. He taught me the importance of being humble—of not forgetting to laugh at yourself, and of being able to shrug off an insult or a put-down with a laugh or a smile. I think that’s what he meant: do your best. Be responsible. Lead by example. Don’t expect something from someone else that you yourself are unwilling to give.
Of course, Dad wasn’t the only person who taught me these things. He wasn’t the only one who has influenced me. But when I was trying to define what it is I believe, his were the first words that came to my head. Dad, I guess that means that your years of saying it to me as I went out the door weren’t wasted. Because this is what I believe: I believe in working hard, being a leader, and never forgetting to laugh at yourself. Thanks, Dad.
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