Do you ever try to imagine your own funeral and what people will say about you? While it may sound maudlin, it can be a useful exercise in adjusting perspective.
Recently I was honoured to join in the celebration of a wonderful man named James (“Jim”) Gardner who sadly and unexpectedly passed away while on vacation with his wife of over 50 years. I knew Jim as my good friend Laura’s kind and smiling Father. At his funeral I learned more of the man who epitomized leadership, and who was deeply loved and respected in his personal and professional lives. As I listened to his friends and family share stories and speak to his character, I was schooled in what it means to be a great leader.
Here are the highlights of what I learned from Jim’s legacy of leadership:
Always be present: Jim’s colleagues spoke about the great conversations they had with him over the years. What an incredible listener he was, making you feel like the only person in the world when engaged in a dialogue. One man told a story of a difficult situation at work and reaching out to Jim for advice. He left that conversation feeling more focused and confident then he had in years.
His family shared that although he worked hard and travelled a lot, when he was home his was all-in, fully engaged in playing with his kids (and more recently grandkids)…never content to be a passive observer.
Spotting and developing talent: Jim understood that his role as a leader was to find and develop talent that would make his organization stronger. Many examples were cited of employees Jim had hired and continued to mentor that would go on to large leadership roles. He clearly left a wave of leadership in his wake.
Sense of humour: Jim’s twinkling eyes easily gave away his sense of humour, and it seems it was sometimes of the devilish variety. When a junior colleague of Jim’s expressed his nervousness before an important meeting, Jim told him “Don’t worry, everything will fine - just don’t screw it up” (the expletive was admittedly changed in the retelling!) No doubt the pre-meeting chuckle let his colleague breath deeper and give a relaxed and confident presentation. Jim clearly had a gift of knowing when to use humour to diffuse, relax and bring people together.
As I listened to these wonderful stories I reflected also on what wasn’t said. There were no mentions of deals done, projects completed, awards or kudos - it was all about relationships and how Jim gave of himself.
Thanks to Jim for leaving this legacy, and to his family and friends for reminding me of the true meaning of leadership. If you are at a crossroads and wondering what’s important, you may want to ask yourself - how do you want to be remembered?