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Leadership Lessons—RIP “E”

This week is our grandson’s 16th birthday. Hard to believe that Tyler is that age already. I remember getting the call from my son the day he was born. What an exciting day it was. What a great kid all of these years, too.

While we were thinking about what to get him for his birthday and for Christmas, I got a note on Facebook from one of our friends in Florida. It simply read, “I know you were close with ‘E’ and so I wanted to reach out and let you know he has passed. Services are yet to be determined.”

I called my wife Mary Kay quickly and told her that “E” was dead! “E” was his first initial but we lovingly had given him the moniker of “E,” along with his last name. Other close friends had done the same.

“E” and I worked together, traveled together, and made presentations together for college recruiting events. He was a tremendously talented young man. When I went to a new company we hired him there, too. After we moved to Texas, we didn’t keep up with him much. Two weeks ago, however, he and I went back and forth on Facebook as I got an update to what he was doing now. He sounded great.

What I didn’t know is that he wasn’t. His mom passed away four years ago at the age of 56 from a very unusual disease. Apparently “E” hasn’t handled it well.

We talked to the couple who sent us the Facebook note and learned that “E” had apparently committed suicide.

For the past few days MK and I have reminded each other of many stories about “E.” We met him when he was in his mid-twenties and lived a large life. He was the type of kid who told us about the women he dated, the professional athletes he hung out with in Tampa, the huge boat that he skippered and the things he accomplished at his work. We were suspect about some of his stories—but knowing him and working with him—he was the type of young man where all of these things could be true. In reality we knew that 80 percent of them were true … we just didn’t know which 80 percent.

That is where this week’s leadership lesson comes in. How will you be remembered? How will all of the people that you lead talk about you when they learn you have passed?

It is a very sobering question. But, rest assured, we all will pass.

We loved “E.” He didn’t need to tell us any stories that weren’t true. We loved him for who he was—a tremendous success or a regular guy. Just to hang out with him was fun because he had this great sense of humor. After MK and I heard another one of his great stories we’d look at each other and acknowledge what a great story that was … followed by the question, “How much of that do you think really happened?”

What will be people say about you at your funeral? I ask this question because true leaders inspire people with how they are . . . not just who they are. A person’s title, their money, their accomplishments and their toys have little to do with how other people will really remember them. No different that the things MK and I have talked about since getting the news.

The other leadership lesson this week revolves around the decision to takes one’s own life. There are times as a leader that things look so bleak. Usually some of the bleakness results from decisions made along the way that have backfired.

Case in point: Chuck Colson of Watergate fame. Imagine being the former assistant to the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States, then going to prison for seven months for the decisions you made. It was those seven months, however, that changed the world. Colson’s Prison Ministries and prison reform changes have helped so many that didn’t know hope was available. It would have been so much easier, it would seem, to make the decision to take his own life. I’m sure things were very bleak for Colson.

As leaders, we have to see past the bleak times. We will be faced with many challenges during 2016 —just as we were during 2015. There may be times when we face stuff we’ve never faced before and we don’t know how we’ll get through those challenges. On the other side, however, might be a life like the one you dreamed and prayed about.

I know. It happened to me. Rest in Peace “E.”

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