9 Leadership Lessons from Dad

My father was born on this day in 1928. He’d have been 86 today had he not died at the too-young age of 50 when I was just 17. The man I have become and am becoming is the partly the result of a continuing conversation in which I compare and contrast my beliefs and actions with how my dad would see something and what he would do in different situations. Some things I’ve tried to emulate. Some things I’ve tried to do differently. Either way, he’s been a great teacher. In my work with leaders, I remember the lessons of my father and try to convey those lessons to those who privilege me with sharing their leadership and life journeys for a time. If you’ll indulge me with some comments about my dad, his lessons are at the end of this post.

Neil A. Giuliano was a presence; though short in stature, he was a very big man. At least that’s how I remember him. He was larger-than-life. He was the fourth of what would end up at nine children, all of whom were born at home except the youngest. My grandmother was pregnant 14 times in her 17 years of marriage; only with my grandfather’s death when my grandmother was 34 and my dad was 10 did the baby-making cease. Being one of nine in an Italian immigrant family, being dirt poor through the Great Depression, witnessing the strength and generosity of his mother through those difficult times, and losing his father at 10 helped shape who my father was to become just as my experiences with him have shaped me and my children’s experiences with me will to some degree shape them.

Growing up during the Great Depression my father learned to do what it takes to survive, to pitch in to help the family, and to be grateful for what you have. He worked to help the family even though he was very young and looked out for his younger brothers and sisters.

Fiercely patriotic, my father always regretted that he missed World War II by a year. He joined the Marines right after high school in 1946 and spent two years on an aircraft carrier peacekeeping in the Mediterranean. This was another experience that shaped who he was. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” was an oft-repeated phrase in our house.

My father was always of man of deep, settled faith. He was proud of the fact that he served Mass up until the week before he got married at 25. His faith inspired him to live a life of public service and leadership. He never turned away from someone in need. He served on our town’s school board and eventually the town council. Everyone in our family and our town for that matter knew that if you needed help, you called Neil.

My father was also a dreamer and risk-taker. When I was twelve, he announced we were moving to Phoenix. We lived in a small town in New Jersey a mile away from my grandmother as did most of his eight siblings so moving across the country was a big deal. He used to say, “The world is a checkerboard and God moves you around until He gets you in the right spot.” To find the right spot, you have to take some risks.

My father was an optimist who always looked forward. One of his favorite songs is “Tomorrow” from the Broadway show “Annie.” It sums up his firm belief that no matter what today may be like, “the sun will come out tomorrow.”

The lessons my father taught me continue to resonate with me and teach me how to live, how to love, and how to lead. I think that if we learn these lessons and work to get them right (which is a daily practice and a life-long journey), then the rest will fall into place.

Thanks for hanging in. As promised, here are the lessons I learned from my dad.

Lesson # 1 – Trust yourself. Trust others. Without trust, there is no hope.

Lesson # 2 – Stand on your own two feet. To do this takes will and strengthens it at the same time. It places you in a victim-free zone. Know what you want and drive toward it.

Lesson #3 – Take some risks. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. Show initiative. Find your purpose.

Lesson #4 – Live your strengths. Find out what you’re good at and what you love and do that. No matter what anyone says.

Lesson #5 – Be true to yourself. Come up with a consistent answer to the question, “Who am I?” and stick to it, regardless of what others may want or who they want you to be.

Lesson #6 – Remember, you get what you give. Lennon and McCartney are right, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Lesson #7 – Give a damn. Care about people and things beyond your own concern. Let as many people into your circle as you can.

Lesson #8 – Pull yourself together. Bring all of who you are to everything. This is what integrity is. This is the beginning and end of wisdom.

Lesson #9 – Don’t F@#& around. Don’t waste time. It runs out faster than you think. No one hands life to you. We don’t find meaning; we create it. You have to make it what you want it to be and the clock is ticking.

Thanks, Dad and Happy Birthday, Marine.

Categories: Leadership.