No, it wasn’t a funeral. It was a retirement party for a man who, in my opinion, is a role model for what an employee…leader…father…husband…and a man should be.
He is the husband of one of my oldest and dearest friends and has become a dear part of our family since they got married over two decades ago. I was thrilled to fly out and participate in the celebration.
What makes “Joseph” such a model?
Loyalty: At the simplest level, there are very few people who can say that they’ve spent their entire career at one company. Joseph can…and did. Not all job levels were great, and there were some mighty stressful times, but he was committed to the company’s mission and the company, in turn, rewarded his loyalty and his job well done.
Integrity: Have you heard the cliché, “His word is gold”? Well, Joseph’s word is gold. He is an engineer—his career has been spent in the world of technology on mission-critical projects that were literally life or death. If calculations were off by even a fraction of a fraction, it would mean failure. Missed deadlines came with enormous price tags. Sometimes commitment to his job required sacrifices of late nights and missed family meals. (We’ll get to the family later.) But there was nothing that was going to keep Joseph from completing what he promised to deliver, always standing side by side with the others on his team.
Caring: I knew no one at the retirement party except my dear friends and their children, but everyone in this room full of 50+ of his coworkers and friends couldn’t wait to share with me their love of Joseph. Why? Because Joseph wasn’t just a boss or a coworker…he is a man who deeply cared about the people who were doing the job, not just their skill-sets.
When you talk to Joseph, he is 1,000% focused on what you’re saying. He pays attention, asks questions and lets you know that he is truly interested in what you have to say.
There were people at the party with whom he had worked 30 years ago as well as more recent members of his teams—all spoke about his deep interest in them as individuals. So why did they want to talk to me? Because, like those who surround celebrities, I was a member of the inner sanctum of the rest of his life… and they couldn’t wait to connect to it.
Joseph’s wife, who is like a sister to me, expressed the same experience. Because of the nature of his work, she had never gone to his office and had never met most of his coworkers until his retirement celebrations. At this party—and previously at a company-only celebration—people lined up to talk to “Eliza” and share their stories with her and to get to know the woman behind the man for whom they have such love and reverence.
Team builder: When you care about individuals…and you demonstrate your commitment to accomplishing goals…and your word is gold, it’s easy to create teams. The room was a team of sub-teams, all led by Joseph and who would follow him anywhere because they trust him.
So darn smart: We all have our unique abilities, but Joseph is so incredibly smart. He really knows his stuff. What he doesn’t know, he learns. Joseph succeeded in great part because he knew his job and knew it well. In this day and age of focus on fairness, Joseph is a testament to what happens when you hire the right man (or woman) with the right skills and the right smarts for the job.
Quiet confidence: I told my husband many years ago that his broad knowledge and quiet confidence made me feel safe in the world. And so it is with Joseph. With all of his abilities and reasons to be proud, he is instead extremely humble and exudes a quiet confidence. He knows he can do it, but he doesn’t need to flaunt it. He just does it. Teams need confident leaders—not screamers…not braggers…not show-offs. They need to feel safe when they take their own risks. They need people who know how to go out and get the job done.
Commitment to his family: There were plenty of difficult times for the family because of Joseph’s work. Late nights…extensive travel…and sometimes they couldn’t even talk to him because he was in meetings that couldn’t be interrupted. Yet Joseph has managed to be deeply imbedded in his children’s and his family’s lives.
Eliza gave a speech…and true to her own character of warmth, love, devotion and humor, she let everyone see Joseph as a husband, father and simply a great guy. Granted, without Eliza’s own commitment to Joseph and the family, things would have been much different, but they work as a team and have raised three incredible teenagers.
Each of the children gave their own speeches as well. They wrote them completely on their own. Needless to say, I have heard many speeches in my life, but I have rarely heard such well-crafted, heartfelt and poignant ones as I heard from these three young people. Each one painted a picture of his or her unique relationship and shared moments and experiences with Joseph. They all spoke of his ability to be present in their lives even when he was away so often. While raising my own children, I learned how important quality time is when you don’t have quantity. It’s not about hovering over children every moment of every day. It is about letting them know you are there when they need you and being totally present during the times when you are together. Sporting events…watching The Big Bang Theory…helping with school projects…going on special trips and outings…baking fresh bread.
And there is one other vital aspect to Joseph and Eliza’s values in creating their family and raising their children—personal responsibility. While the kids have had a very good life, they are not spoiled or entitled. They earn money for the things they want. They have faced challenges at school and with friends… and have been coached by their parents on how to resolve problems on their own and advocate for themselves. These kids are following in the footsteps of their parents.
I’m going to digress for one moment…because I want to hammer home a point.
I watched the movie The Whale on my return flight last night. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth watching. One line stuck out for me with the impact of Joseph as a role model in business and at home. Whereas Joseph has been fully present for those at work and at home, the lead character in The Whale, Charlie, has hidden from the people in his life. The movie paints a poignant picture of the trauma that Charlie has suffered that led to his becoming a 400-pound invalid. Charlie, a deeply caring, intelligent and thoughtful man, chose to hide from his on-line university students, saying his camera was broken, and he abandoned his eight-year-old daughter (you’ll have to watch the movie to learn why), only to reconnect with her 10 years later. He didn’t see or talk to her because he didn’t want her to be ashamed, but he quietly placed every penny he earned into a savings account to help her in the future—loving her from afar. “I need to know that she’s going to have a decent life. Where she cares about people. And other people care about her. And she’s going to be ok.” It was a beautiful, well-intended sacrifice but it’s not what she needed. She needed the presence of her loving, smart and committed father. She needed his involvement and heart and presence even if for only a few precious moments each week.
Studies have shown over and over the positive effect of father involvement on children—higher academic achievement, higher self-esteem and fewer behavioral problems, to name just a few. Watching Joseph’s children speak at his party, it’s clear that they have benefitted greatly from his powerful presence.
We all need the presence and commitment of people who care for us. We need partners and leaders and mentors and helpers. We need people who are brave enough to face their challenges and who give us strength to face our own. We need more people like Joseph in the world to teach others how to be.