I’d sat down in the exhibitor hall when a text message came in. I was expecting this message, and dreading it. It confirmed that my friend Tom had passed away that very morning after a year-long battle with colon cancer.
I slumped in my chair, overcome with a deep sorrow and sadness for Tom, his wife and his four young children.
A couple of days later, my family and I were at Tom’s visitation. The funeral home was overflowing with grief stricken people who came to pay their respects. Tom’s story was tragic – a 40-year-old man taken from his family in the prime of his life.
There were so many photos of Tom and his family and friends at the funeral home, all depicting much happier times. It was overwhelming.
But there was one photo in particular that jumped out at me – one of Tom and his employees.
You see, Tom spent his professional life running his own tool and die company that specialized in high-end design work. As an entrepreneur, he was a visionary and a perfectionist. As a leader, he cared deeply for his employees.
Many times when we were together, Tom and I would speak at length about his company. He would share stories of his employees and speak of them in fond ways. He always had a deep sense of gratitude for their contribution to his company.
The photo of Tom and his employees brought me back to those conversations, highlighting the deep devotion that Tom had for all those who worked in his company. Next to his family, his employees were what he valued most in his life.
I recently learned the photo was taken on a very important day. Tom and his team had just successfully completed one of their most complex projects for a key customer. To capture the moment, they took this photo. You will find Tom on the lower right.
That photo captured Tom at his best, maybe at the height of his career. It captured everything that he loved – great design, great customer service and the comradery of his employees.
What I also learned was that as he prepared for his own death, Tom insisted this photo be on display. He knew it would mean a lot to his employees, as it would remind them of a time when they were at their personal and collective best.
Sadly, Tom left this world much too early, but not before leaving all of us with a truly special example of great leadership.
In my experience, I have found that truly great leaders are devoted to the people they lead.
They value the contributions that all employees make, and make sure no one is left out when it is time to express gratitude.
They will support your growth and development.
They will provide coaching and advice when you need it, and stick by you when you are struggling. They will let you know they believe in you, even when you may not believe in yourself.
They also won’t shy away from giving you feedback when they see problems that are impeding your success.
And if they have to, they will also help you move on if they know it’s in your best interest.
Despite the fact that great leaders are often devoted leaders, I believe too few of us are truly devoted to the people we lead. We may respect them and value their contributions. But our relationship with these people falls short of the devotion that Tom demonstrated.
That’s too bad because leaders who demonstrate genuine devotion are typically big winners. Why? Because devotion begets devotion.
Your employees will be devoted to you and step up in ways you can’t imagine. And that is a key ingredient for success.
This week’s gut check question asks: are you devoted to the employees you lead?
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro