Several years ago, I took on the role of plant manager at a plant with major challenges. We were trying everything we knew to turn the results around and it felt like an uphill battle. I had also noticed the countless personal problems the plant employees were experiencing, as evidenced by the wage garnishments, separations and divorces, and an alarming level of health issues. The bottom line was that people were simply not living high quality lives and yet we expected them to set their problems aside and be enthusiastic and highly committed employees. It was clear to me that there was no way we would prosper as a team if we didn’t prosper as individuals. We had established a vision to become the “Showcase of Excellence,” but it was clear it wasn’t going to happen unless we also became what we called the “Cradle of Prosperity,” by taking action in the workplace to change people’s personal lives for the better.
I won’t get into the details of everything we did to improve people’s health and finances and mental well-being, but the one story that stands out to me is one that stemmed from my own personal mission to help people improve the quality of the relationships in their lives. I had countless coaching sessions and casual conversations with the aim to fulfill this mission and one such conversation was with an employee I will call “Tim.”
Tim had an influential position in the plant and he was often at odds with others who didn’t think the same way did. He had a reputation for being a hot-head, and he and others were having a hard time letting that go. Tim had come up through the ranks, and his only teaching and coaching on how to lead had come from an authoritarian boss who taught him how to, unsurprisingly, boss people around. It was clear to me that Tim wanted to break out of that and learn to be an effective leader, and so we were slowly working on his skillset and mindset, and toolset and methods that he used to do his job.
While all of that was going on, Tim and I developed a relationship where we could talk about what was going on in our personal lives. Tim had shared with me that his son had left home a couple of years back because of their strained relationship, and Tim had not heard from him since. This always came up in conversations. Even though to everybody else, Tim seemed like this rough and tough guy, it was clear to me that not being able to be in touch with his son was bothering him on a very deep level. One day, during one of these conversations, I asked him about his relationship with his own father.
I knew that he and his mother, who had separated from his father when Tim was younger, had a very close relationship until she passed away a few years earlier, but he had never said anything about his father. That day, Tim revealed to me that he had cut all ties with his father and that side of the family. He mentioned that over the years his father and uncles, aunts, and cousins had tried to get in touch with him but he wanted nothing to do with them.
I suggested to him that he should consider getting back in touch with his father and his family, and that while he had no control over the choices his son made, he could choose what he could do to restore the relationship with his own father. We talked from time to time about why it was important for him to get complete with his father and forgive the mistakes he had made, but Tim didn’t seem very open to the idea. After a while, I stopped pressing the issue.
Then, a few months later, Tim came up to me one day and said, “By the way, my father said to tell you, ‘Thank you!’” He was smiling, which was not a common occurrence, so I knew something big had happened. He went on to tell me that he gotten back in touch with his father and that they had some great conversations, and they had decided to stay in touch and restore the relationship that had been non-existent for quite some time. Of course, I was excited for him and his dad and I made sure he knew how proud I was of him for having put the hurt and pain behind him and having taken the courageous step of restoring his relationship with his father. In the coming weeks and months, Tim would come to me from time to time to tell me that his uncle wanted to thank me or his cousins wanted to thank me and I always reminded him that it was he, not I, who took the difficult step. He subsequently attended a family reunion and had a blast, rekindling the relationships that once seem lost for good.
Meanwhile, he had also become so much more effective at doing what he did at work. He was more collaborative and was slowly but surely earning the trust and respect of the people. We were seeing similar changes in several other leaders and our morale was beginning to pick up. We would eventually go on to deliver the best results in the company and enjoy a culture of engagement that we had set out to create, but the greatest reward in having gone through that difficult process of enabling people to prosper in their personal lives was not the extraordinary results we produced. Rather, it was the evidence we saw every day of just how people’s lives and the lives of their families and their communities were transformed.
While, I do not remember the exact numbers we delivered, I will never forget the look on people’s faces when they delivered awesome news to me about their how their lives were getting better. People were getting out of debt, restoring their health, restoring their marriages, and experiencing peace. We eventually created a workplace culture that was a source of inspiration for people, not a source of agony on top of all other challenges they faced in their personal lives.
To get back to Tim and the best part of his story, his son eventually got back in touch with him and started coming around. You can imagine the excitement in Tim’s eyes when he told me about the first contact that was made by his son. That is the look I will never forget.
On this Father’s Day weekend, I hope we all find the strength to extend grace toward our fathers and forgive them for what they did or didn’t do for us and for who they were and who they weren’t. As a father, I know that I have not always been or said or done the things I should have for my kids. I am grateful that they have turned out to be awesome human beings in spite of—and perhaps, because of—my flaws. My greatest wish for them, and for every person who has a dad, is that they let go of anything their father may have said or done to make them feel less and be less than the extraordinary human beings that they truly are. I’m sure this is the wish that every father has, whether they were able to express it competently or not.
To the sons and daughters out there, I would say whether your father is still alive or not, and whether you choose to reach out to him or not, you ought to grant him this wish on Father’s Day, not just for his sake but for yours. May you be complete with the past and create a future of your choosing that is inspired by what’s possible in the future, and not constrained by your feelings about what he did or didn’t do for you. And may you always remember that your peace and well-being is the greatest gift you will ever be able to offer to either of your parents, whether they are able to fully appreciate it or not.
IF YOU'VE EVER WONDERED WHY SOMETIMES, IN SPITE OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE AND CAPABILITIES AND YOUR BEST INTENTIONS, YOU ARE JUST NOT AS EFFECTIVE IN CREATING MEANINGFUL CHANGE AND PRODUCING EXTRAORDINARY RESULTS...
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