Every young man worships his father.
When I was young, I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up like my dad. People looked up to him and people respected him and people always smiled when they saw him. When I was in public with him I felt like I was a celebrity. Like I got to hang out with the coolest guy on the block.
My mother had a very similar effect on people, except she had a very different approach. My mother doesn’t talk as much as my father. She is reserved and introverted. She was never the center of attention, yet people always knew when she was around.
My friends were all enamored with my parents. We always hung out at my house and people would always say “Tim, your parents are so cool.” Everywhere I went I would hear “oh you’re Ian and Cherie’s kid.”
I would roll my eyes because I heard it so many times, but in my heart I always loved it.
Now that I am older, I have had the time and the maturity to look back and discover what it was about my parents that made them so magnetic. Why was it that my parents had such an effect on people? Why did people always want to follow them?
I have some theories… Here goes.
Lesson 1 – Always Be The Hardest Worker In The Room
I don’t like drawing attention to it because I was taught never to feel sorry for myself. But it is safe to say that as a family, we struggled financially. When you’re young, you don’t know that you’re broke. You don’t even really understand what that means. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I knew to avoid the house for a few days when I saw all the envelopes were laid out on the table. That meant that bills were being paid and shit was going down.
My parents worked so hard. No really, harder than anyone I have ever met. 80 hour work weeks. Overtime, overnight shifts and more over time. They would wake up early, get home late, cook dinner, clean the house, hustle for side money, keep the lawn cut and still made it to my soccer games.
I wish there was a way to accurately describe how fucking tough my parents are. It is impossible to outwork them. I can say with 100% certainty that if you try to outwork my dad, you will fail. Guaranteed.
Every leader has to be the hardest worker in the room. I think this is why people respected my parents so much. They had little money, but they had a beautiful family and it was clear to everyone that they were willing to do anything it took to provide for each other and for my sister and I. How could you not look up to people like that?
When people display that kind of work ethic, you want to impress them. You naturally seek their attention.
If you are trying to lead people, you must be the hardest worker. If you aren’t then people will follow the man or woman who is.
Lesson 2 – Listen To People. Really Listen To Them
My mom is the best listener.
She understands what it means to listen. She understands how to let another person feel comfortable. She understands that listening is more than just letting people’s words echo in your ears. She knows how to truly soak in what people are saying and relate to them on a personal level.
When I was younger, people were always asking me how my mom was. My mother has lived a very hard life… very hard. Yet, everywhere I went, there were people who were legitimately interested in how she was doing. I realize now that they were interested in her because she was interested in them.
When you listen to people, when you respect their viewpoint and expect nothing in return, people naturally feel some kind of connection with you. They respect you without being intimidated by you. Listening to people shows them that you are no better and no worse than they are. It shows that you are just another person, trying to do the best you can.
No one likes to be patronized or talked down to. If you listen to people and respect their viewpoint, they will always feel gratitude and they will follow you anywhere.
Lesson 3 – Be Willing To Fight For Your People
Leaders make people feel safe. Most people look to leaders for protection, and in order to provide protection, you must know how to fight.
This is not just about physicality. When I say fight I am not always talking about fisticuffs. It is about knowing when to stand your ground.
Gandhi, Nelson Mandella, FDR, Martin Luther King and Elizabeth Blackwell are perfect examples of this. It is a cruel world out there and if you don’t have the backbone to stand up straight and fight when you need to, people will walk over you. They will not follow you.
My father was a union rep for the baggage handlers that worked the runways at the Philadelphia airport. My mother was an inner-city ER nurse at a hospital called MCP which is in a notoriously rough part of inner city Philadelphia. My parents had enormous amounts of responsibility and pressure put on them at all times.
Every day my parents were going to bat for someone. Every day my parents put themselves last in order to protect the people they were in charge of. Sometimes this meant going head to head with doctors, with Italian mob guys who were in the unions, with drug addict patients who would swing at my mom. My dad was in charge of keeping people safe and my mom was in charge of keeping people alive.
My parents knew what was right, and they knew what was wrong. They are not perfect, but they never made the “wrong” choice simply because it was the easy choice. The stood up straight and they fought for their moral code.
They’re so bad ass.
Lesson 4 – Avoid The Victim Mentality
Let me tell you something, my parents have had hard lives.
No kidding. Sometimes when I think of everything my parents have dealt with and have been through, it makes me feel like a pussy. But they never complained.
They never asked for a handout, they never sat in sorrow. They believed that their lives were their own responsibility and that they were in charge of their fate. Out of all the reasons people respected my parents so much, I think this was the biggest reason.
A leader can never be a victim. Never. A leader is responsible for his or her own life and well-being.
One day, my father got laid off. He worked for U.S. Air for 20 years. After 9-11 (and some other instances which he never really told me about) he was let go, just like that. He called me to tell me about it. I remember driving my Bronco around when I got the call. He told me that he lost his job, and then he told me that everything was going to be okay and I believed him.
No matter what punches my parents were taking, they always kept their heads up and marched on. They never even thought there was another option. They never pouted or sulked or asked “why me?” They were never jealous of other people. They just demanded the best from themselves and refused to see any other way.
I will say this. There is nothing more pathetic in life than a person who plays the victim. Life is hard, and some people have it really hard. But I will repeat something my father once said to me that I never forgot.
“No one owes you shit.”
No one. No matter what you’re going through, always remember that there is someone out there who has less than you and is grateful for it. No matter what, don’t ever kid yourself into thinking that you deserve a break. If you want something in life, you have to earn it.
My parents understood this. I am proud to be their son.
A Debt I’ll Never Be Able To Repay
I am so fucking grateful for my parents.
I think the cruelest trick that life plays on us is that it makes us not want to listen to our parents when we are young. They always tell us “you’ll understand when you’re older.”
They always knew better and they always gave me the right advice. But I never took it. I made things so much harder on myself. That’s how we learn isn’t it?
I’m still unsure if leaders are born or if they are made. I think it’s probably a combination of both. But, one thing I know to be true is that leaders never draw a crowd, the crowd is drawn to them. They naturally exclude characteristics that make other people want to impress them.
Most of all, leaders find ways to make other people feel good about themselves.
Thanks Mom and Dad. I hope I make you proud.