The company my wife Carol and I founded almost five decades ago, Hackbarth Delivery Service, was launched from our small three-bedroom home in an historic neighborhood of Mobile, Alabama. A sun room off to the side of our small kitchen served two purposes — half for Carol’s den and the other was my office. A couch providing seating in the den became the dividing line between my office and Carol’s den.
Not enough for either purpose, the division of space became a bone of contention. The dividing line couch seemed to move a few inches in one direction or the other day-by-day. In an inevitable argument one day, the dividing line couch became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Throughout that day, while making deliveries, I regretted the things I had said and could not wait until I could get home to apologize for my unkind words.
Rehearsing in my mind a very necessary apology as I passed through the house, I found Carol waiting for me in a room that had become completely transformed.
She had moved the old dividing line couch to a wall, opening up the whole room. My business plaques and awards were hung throughout the room. I stood there speechless. Carol did not need to say anything. The room that had fallen prey to woeful arguments was now presented to me as a gift – my own office for running our fledging business.
Carol selflessly put me first by forgetting her own interests because she wanted me to succeed. She wanted me to know that I had support. Carol has always been a reliable leader in our family and in our business. She proved again what really matters on that special day.
Leaders put other team members first.
I was reminded of this last week when two executives from our company trudged through flooded waters in Houston while resolutely dragging a small boat carrying a driver to his home, ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, to salvage very important items. Despite major obstacles, other HDS managers from Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were there in all the devastated terrain to help our Houston team serve customers relying on us. In phone conference meetings, I listened to the amazing efforts made by the entire HDS team. At stake were life-saving medical deliveries. It does not get any more important than this.
Not surprisingly, Carol wanted to be there. So, we drove to Texas and positioned ourselves in Beaumont. Driving through flooded waters, we were able to spend some time with our Houston team and others who traveled there in support.
As I listened to the stories during multiple daily phone conferences, the constant emerging concept was leadership – powerful leadership demonstrated by every member of our HDS team. In classic Carol style, her deep desire to serve those in need reminded me of the countless times she has victoriously carried the baton of leadership in our marriage. She understands leadership at a fundamental level – not leadership we may read about in books, but supreme trailblazing influence – where the rubber meets the road. Her simple approach to life is the answer to the question posed by my definition of leadership.
Leadership is influencing another to do what really matters.
The obvious question is How can you influence? The answer is simple, yet challenging:
Put others first.
Reflecting over my own life’s journey, I realize the important influence other people like Carol have contributed to my success and wellbeing. Again and again, the answer is so clear: Others have powerfully influenced me and the direction of my own life because they put others first. Quite often I have been the beneficiary of that special gift..
What do you wish for your life? What are you trying to accomplish?
What will be your legacy? What will be your long-term impact?
What is, and what will be, your influence? What is leadership?
Put others first.