Running nonprofit organizations and leading a life of purpose require deep competence, courage, compassion and commitment. While we learn a great deal about what it means to lead with character and conviction through school, on-the-job training and continuing education, some of our greatest lessons about life and leadership started much earlier than that — at home.
In honor of Father’s Day, current and former Nonprofit Leadership Center staff members are celebrating the men who have shaped us by sharing the most important lessons they’ve learned from their fathers about leadership and life.
6 Leadership Lessons from Dads
1. Go Out of Your Way to Do the Right Thing
“One of the most important lessons I learned from my Daddy is that it’s worth it to go out of your way to do the right thing. One of my favorite memories is when my Daddy borrowed my mom’s stethoscope to find a poor squirrel that got stuck inside our walls. He had to figure out exactly where it was. When he finally found it, he drilled a big hole in the wall (that he had to patch later, of course), threaded a jump rope down into the hole, and coaxed the squirrel to use it as a ramp to run out. Daddy was waiting with a pillowcase to catch him and set him free outside.
“No matter what my dad was doing, he always taught me that everyone, even wild animals, deserve mercy, compassion and a second chance at life. Thanks, Daddy.”
— Laurel Westmoreland
2. Walk the Talk
“Three months after my dad walked me down the aisle at my wedding, he died of a heart attack on the way to work. He was the CEO of his own steel company in Pennsylvania and had his own quiet brand of leadership. He led by example and exhibited a deep commitment to responsibility, respectability and loyalty in everything he did. No big lecture, no quotable sayings — just walking the talk with a steadfast commitment to what is right. I strive to emulate him every day.”
— Emily Benham, FAHP, CFRE, CEO
3. Be a Student
As I think about the many lessons I’ve learned from my dad, three pieces of advice stand out most about leadership and life:
- “Keep your word.”
- “Be the kind of person people will seek out.”
- “Be a student of the game. If you don’t understand something, ask for help or find out what is being asked of you.”
— Charlie Imbergamo, MA, CFRE, Incoming CEO
4. Look Up to See the Road Ahead
“When I was finally ready to get my driver’s license, I remember driving on the highway for the first time with my dad. I distinctly recall approaching a series of what felt like endless twists and turns. With my hands at 10 and 2, I could see my dad in my peripheral begin to panic as I tried to rotate the wheel at the correct angle to avoid flipping or crashing the car. My dad said in the most endearing yet stern voice, ‘You have to look up and see the road ahead in order to drive through these turns. Stop getting caught up in looking down.’
“Years later, I constantly remind myself to keep my head up and look ahead to where I need to be. During that same driving trip, my dad instructed me to take an exit. I remember seeing the stop sign at the end of the ramp and just wanting to get to it, so naturally I sped up. Of course, my dad doing his fathering thing panicked and said, ‘Whoa! What are you doing? You never speed up to slow down.’ In my everyday life, whenever I see an opportunity to take a breather, whether it’s time off or time away, I notice my natural inclination is to overload and get as many things done as I possibly can. For some reason, I believe it will allow me to rest sooner and be more present in my downtime, but this never happens. In the end, it causes unnecessary stress. When I feel myself wanting to speed up, I hear my dad’s voice reminding me that not only is it okay to take it easy, but it’s better for me if I do so.”
— Jamiel Maze, MA, Resource Development Coordinator
5. If It’s Worth Your Time, Do It Well
“One of the most important things I learned from my dad is that if something is worth your time to do, then it’s worth doing it well.
“I aspire to put myself wholeheartedly into everything I do. My dad passed his strong work ethic down to me as a positive, strong role model and example. He was an inspiration to many and to all who knew him.”
— Lorraine Faithful
6. Don’t Forget to Have Fun
“The best advice my Dad gave me — and some of the hardest to put into practice when everything about life sometimes seems so very important — was to have a good time. Dad modeled it for me, too; he made life fun. He was a preacher, but he was never sanctimonious. He was a big man, but his grin let you know he was approachable. I have treasured memories of my Dad’s big booming laugh, of him teasing my friends and boyfriends, and making my Mom giggle like a schoolgirl. I have memories of my Dad dancing down the hall and scratching like a chicken in the kitchen. He understood the value of being silly and helping people have a good belly laugh.
“The older I get, the more easily I find the joy in small, everyday moments, and the more comfortable I am being silly. And I’m happier for it. Thanks, Dad.”
— Jennifer Dodd