Phil Eikenberry was my Dad. I was born before he turned twenty, and he died just over nine years ago. During the 45 years in between he had a major impact on my life; after all, he was my Dad. He was a farmer, a business owner and heavily involved in his church and community. He was my Dad, my boss, my coach, and one of my biggest fans. Because of the life’s work I have chosen, I’ve thought a lot about what I learned from him as a leader. And perhaps because of that, I was surprised recently to find I’ve never really written this article.
Overdue perhaps, but not out-of-date. Here are some valuable leadership lessons I learned from him.
Wisdom and Age Aren’t Always Connected. Born before Dad was twenty, in some ways we grew up together. Looking back, I marvel at his wisdom, even when he was young. Of course we will benefit from respecting our elders (I learned that from both of my parents), but I learned from Dad that wisdom doesn’t have to equate with age. Are you recognizing the wisdom and perspective of all your team members, regardless of their age?
You Can Learn From Anyone. Related to the last lesson, my Dad often said, “you can learn from anyone if you decide to.” It doesn’t matter their station in life. It doesn’t matter their education level, or age. Sometimes we can learn from what they say, sometimes from their actions – but to gain the lessons, we must value them, listen and observe. The lessons may be what not to do; but there are lessons if we look for them. What are you learning about leadership by observing and listening to others?
Be Willing to Innovate. The list of new technologies, tools and practices that my Dad tried (and in some cases succeeded with) was long. What the innovations were matter less than the fact that he did try new things. He studied and observed, and then he took action. And at least as importantly, his innovations were focused on leveraging his business strengths and overcoming his weaknesses. A couple of those innovations are almost legends in our farming community, even today. Are you willing to innovate, and let your team do the same?
There’s a Time to Sow and a Time to Reap. This important biblical lesson makes literal sense for farmers, but the lesson is broader for me. I know of no one willing to work harder (and expect the same dedication of others) when it was needed. And while Dad knew how to push the accelerator to the floor, he also knew when to back off and not work so hard – for his benefit and for the benefit of his team. Are you as willing and able to give your team a respite when appropriate as you are to push them when the task load is high?
Ask Others Their Opinion. Dad asked me (from a young age) and others who worked for him, “What do you think?” He didn’t just ask, he listened and took action on (at least some) of our ideas. Good leaders value the input of their teams, knowing they will get valuable input and greater ownership for the work too. How often do you ask your team for their opinion?
Let it Go. My Dad could get mad and yell with the best of them. Sometimes the yelling was because of the machinery noise around us, and sometimes not. Sometimes it was a safety issue, to get people’s attention, and sometimes not. Sometimes it was warranted, and sometimes not. I am continuing to learn that the tone of our voice matters, and that yelling often (nearly always?) isn’t the right answer. But after the anger, my Dad let it go. Often, as he (and I) got older, he would later apologize. Message delivered (even if less than perfectly), and then he let it go. As a leader, we must coach and then let it go. Are you able to let go of mistakes, bobbles and bad judgements of your team members?
And . . .
He was far from perfect.
He would be the first to admit it, and to those closest to him he would share even more about his vulnerabilities and mistakes. There are three powerful lessons here too: we don’t have to be perfect to be an effective leader; when we bring our humility to our work as a leader, we will lead better; and the best leaders are willing to share their vulnerabilities appropriately.
Yes, this post is a tribute to and reflection on my Father’s impact on me. But the lessons for you are just as important. Use this to think about what you learned from your father (or others). Think about the lessons I shared and how you can apply them. In other words, take this article of mine, and make it yours.
While I hope my Dad is smiling as he looks down reading this, I’m betting he’d be far happier if something I learned, helps you lead better too.