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Front Seat Leadership Lesson

On an early spring Saturday years ago, my dad and I were driving on the north side of Racine, WI, my hometown. At the time, I was in high school and my dad was a senior executive at J.I. Case Company, what is now Case IH. I am the fourth of five children and the second son. I always enjoyed time alone with my dad. Our exchange that morning would fuel a passion in that still burns in me.

As we drove, I thought of asking my dad a question. Someone who had been part of the team my dad led at Case left that part of the organization for an opportunity that would likely lead to that man rising higher in the organization than him. Sitting in the passenger seat, I somehow determined it would be OK to ask my dad how that felt. Even as a high school student, I thought such a move might be discouraging or feed self-doubt. But I felt safe asking him, which tells you a bit about my dad. His answer that Saturday has stuck with me. My dad said it was his job to find talented people, put them in positions to succeed, and help them reach their potential even when that meant they might leave or might rise higher on the org chart than him. I immediately knew it was a genuine answer, likely because I had seen the same from him.

My dad and me circa 1985.

I never told my dad how much that conversation influenced me. His earthly life ended in 1998, after a battle with liver cancer. My dad's answer that chilly Saturday many years ago shaped the type of man I would become. His answer that morning changed my definition of success. My dad’s answer and example still drive the kind of leader I strive to be -- one passionate about developing people.

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