As most of my readers know, I’m one of 17 children—the 14th child, to be exact. I’ve often compared the similarities of running a business to the leadership and management style of my parents, and how it allowed us all to operate as happy, successful, and independent individuals.
Last month, on the afternoon prior to my first half marathon (which I’ve been writing about since my training began in January), I received a call that my mom was dying. They said she was ‘transitioning’ and that I should hurry home to Southern California.
I’d anticipated my mom leaving us sometime this year, as she had begun to withdraw and slow down these last twelve months. At nearly 88 years old, she had been mobile and active until recently. She lived a life that was full of love, laughter, and adventure. In rereading her eulogy this week, I realized many of her characteristics were aligned with what it takes to be a great leader. In honor of her this Mother’s Day, I’ve decided to highlight some of my mom’s influence and how it is strikingly similar to strong leaders.
Not only did she make it a point to spend one-on-one time with each kid when she could, but she gave her time beyond that. She offered to be team mother for our sports teams—one time she was team mother for three of our teams at the same time! She taught catechism, volunteered at our schools, and was one of the founding parishioners of our church. And my mom always had room for one more. She invited people beyond our family to join us for dinners and on the holidays. If there was anyone with nowhere to go, she had an open door policy. She believed there was plenty to go around.
Don’t the best leaders make the effort to develop their teams and get to know everyone as individuals?
My mom loved games—cross word puzzles, Scrabble, Boggle, Rummy Cube, Up Words, cards, and of course, Bingo (going to Bingo with mom was a rite of passage for all of her children and grandchildren). She loved the Dodgers and took us to games as often as she could. She was really a big kid herself; climbing trees, river rafting in Alaska, sliding down rocks in the Kings River and swinging over the river on a rope at Sawpit Lodge. She lived life, and she lived for new experiences.
Isn’t business really just a game of strategies and problem-solving, much like all of those other games?
Mom provided balance in the household. I can remember one year we got two flat tires on our way to cut down a Christmas tree. Out of frustration, my dad decided that because we spent our tree money on new tires, we would use the old imitation tree that year instead (it must have been more than 15 years old). My siblings and I were all upset, but sure enough mom came through and the next week convinced dad and the guy at the tree lot to give us a cheap, slightly odd looking tree—it’s still one of my favorites we ever had. She knew how to bring gray into situations as opposed to my dad’s black and white perspective, and she remained calm during stressful times.
Isn’t the role of a leader to be controlled and find solutions where none may seem to exist?
Gunthers are loud talkers, even when we use our library voices. But our laughter can be even louder, and it often started with mom. She found humor in almost every situation. I remember at one dinner at least 4 of us spilled our milk, and my dad said the next person to spill milk was going to get it. Well, he sat down right after that and spilled his milk! We were all silent, and my mom started busting up laughing. Then the rest of us started laughing—with my dad being the loudest. My mom even had humor when she first started using a walker. She would do the hokey pokey as she walked, moving her hips back and forth with my sisters singing the song.
Aren’t the ability to bring humor to situations and most importantly, having the strength to laugh at yourself, important attributes of leaders?
She had many hobbies, from stained glass to learning German to growing plants to needle point. And she could stretch a meal and stretch a budget to always find room for fun—picnics, museums, movies, dinners, and even Disneyland.
Don’t the best leaders possess creativity, as well as have hobbies outside of work? They aren’t just concerned with their jobs, but engaged with their lives—their activities outside of work typically enhance their perspectives and abilities.
Mom had friends everywhere—the Bingo hall, church, the neighborhood, the sports field. She was always upbeat and positive, truly spreading joy to those she met. My dad said she never knew a stranger, even in the line at the grocery store.
Isn’t it important for leaders to be positive and interactive?
Like any mom, she always wanted the best for her kids. She told me once that she realized some kids were more independent while others needed more support, and even though it appeared things weren’t always equal, she said she was just trying to understand and meet everyone’s diverse needs. She wanted her kids to develop into independent, giving individuals. She truly was willing to give of herself for her kids. She did the best she could and would always strive to do better.
Don’t the best leaders aim to meet the needs of their teams? And aren’t they always trying to better themselves?
This final attribute I mention was never more present than during her last week. As my mom began the transition process from this world to the next one, she provided us an opportunity to say our goodbyes, share her favorite music, laugh a lot, and relive the old movies from our childhood. She waited for the last family member to arrive to say farewell before passing only a few minutes later. That experience of being with her during her last days, watching her lay there unresponsive but hearing all that we had to say, holding her hands until she took her last breath—it was an amazing gift she gave to us. She took care of us all until the very end.
I know she is at peace now with my dad, our brother Greg, and our sister Rose. She was an amazing individual and a truly inspiring leader.
I would like to end with a quote my mom heard in a movie that she loved: A life lived in fear is a life half lived. She truly was fearless and lived her life to the fullest.
This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. To read the previous articles in this series, visit his blog at www.Collaboration-llc.com.
Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. Learn more at www.Collaboration-llc.com.