Leadership lessons I learned from my Dad

Father’s Day always provides a great opportunity to reflect on the kind of Father you had growing up and what you learned from him. I recently visit my father, Israel Gonzalez, in Apopka, FL and remembered anew the many lessons I learned from him. Today I want to share some of those lessons with you

Nobody is an island

My Dad always believed in the power of relationships. I saw how he built and nurtured relationships. He taught me that nobody is an island, and you can only succeed if you connect and network.

There were many examples of the importance of relationships. One of the ones I remember best had to do with the time he was president of a struggling small College in Costa Rica. It was through the relationships he developed inside the college, with the board, and with government and educational leaders that he was able to turn the institution around. In the five years he was president, it grew from broke and unrecognized to a respected, accredited, and financially stable institution.

Don’t cross the bridge before you get to the river

I think this is one lesson that has helped me keep my sanity over and over. Planning ahead is one thing. Being paralyzed by the worries and choices that lie in the future is another. Trying to solve a problem before you have to is an impossible and unsatisfying waste of time. My dad taught me to live in the present fully, and not to worry unnecessarily about the future.

Keep a positive attitude

My father’s smile is contagious. He is always smiling, and sees the best in people and life. He taught me that you find what you look for. Therefore, it’s better to look for the positive and not to dwell on the negative. Some might have considered him naive. The reality is that his positive attitude many times opened doors wide when others thought it was impossible to see them open even a crack. Leaders that can see possibilities where others see only obstacles will lead successfully.

Treat people with respect

I’m thankful I grew up seeing how my father treated people. He listened to them, valued their opinions, and gave them his time and help regardless of position, color of skin, age, or beliefs. He never belittled anybody, shouted, or exercise his power in the wrong way. At the same time, he was not afraid of dissension, difference of opinions, and diversity of thought, as long as it was done respectfully.

Lead by example

My father walked his talk. He never asked me or anybody else to do something he was not willing to do himself. As a father, he was always willing to show me what to do. When he was a pastor, he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave church. When he was an administrator, once a decision was reached by consensus, even if he had been in disagreement with it, he would carry it on to success, regardless of the work involved. And he was always available to counsel, support and encourage.Leading by example is a must.

Have strong convictions and live by them

Dad always did what he considered was right no matter who was around. From him I learned that the values you live by form the foundation of who you are. He taught me that what others think of you does not matter as much as what you think of yourself. Leaders need to base their decisions and actions on principles, not on popularity. I often saw him stick to his principles even when others criticized him for it.

Don't be afraid to ask

This is one lesson he constantly reminded me of. He also showed me how to ask, and that asking for help is not a weakness, but a strength. He frequently said things like: “The door will not open unless you knock.” “Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst thing that can happen is someone could say no. But if you don’t ask, it’s an automatic no.”

Perseverance pays off

Never give up, even when things seem impossible. There are times when a leader has to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done, no matter how difficult, messy, or uncomfortable the task may be. I saw my father do this time and again. Difficulties never discouraged him.

I especially saw his great perseverance in the 10 years he was leader of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Cuba. Those were especially difficult transition years, right after communism took over, and the government was trying to erase God from people's minds and lives. My father was never afraid to negotiate with the highest governments officials on behalf of the church and its people. Not even 3 different instances of short jail time deterred him from his task.

Through it all, I learned you always have to try, and keep trying. Even people who don’t believe or see things like you do, can learn to respect you, and even reluctantly help you, if you persevere.

The best gift to people is your presence and belief in them

My dad is always there when I need him. I have never questioned his believe in me. I have always known he is proud of me. He always supported my dreams and did what he could to help me achieve them. Even now, I know that whenever I have a problem, he’s just a phone call away.

That kind of belief creates safety and security in people and frees them up to risk and attempt great things. It’s amazing how powerful it is to know you have someone in your corner cheering you on in life. By experiencing this personally, I have been able to give the same gift to many others.

Reach for Excellence

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” was one of my father’s mottoes. He taught me that to succeed you have to rise above the common. You can’t ask the best of others if you are not willing to put the effort into being excellent yourself. This includes being a life-long learner. It also includes learning from everything and everybody.

He took every possible opportunity to better himself. When he first went to College, he was able to finish only an Associate degree. Years later, with mother and me in tow, he went to finish his College. After a long hiatus in Cuba and Costa Rica, he went for his Master degree in USA, even though by then he was over 40 years old, and English was difficult for him. He often reminded me of the importance of education and working hard, and the fact that nobody can take away your education and knowledge. His example made a lasting impact on me and I have to credit him for my constant quest for knowledge and excellence.

Embrace Change

In his long life (my father is now 88 years old) my father has played multiple roles in multiple environments. He always saw change as a new opportunity for service. I have never seen him hesitate while taking a new assignment, role, or going to a new location. He went from pastor to administrator, to educational leader, and back to pastor. He served in Cuba, Costa Rica, Honduras, and New York. As a result, he had great breadth of experience and was able to relate to anybody anywhere. Probably his greater challenge was learning to live without my mother, his wife for 50 years. Yet, he was able to move on, and to find new joy with his second wife.

Believe, and miracles will happen

My dad has a strong faith that he passed on to me. An important part of my dad’s creed is to show his faith by his actions and to honor God in all that he does. While growing up in communist Cuba I experienced first hand how his faith helped him navigate many difficulties. I also experienced many miracles big and small through the power of prayer.

He taught me early to have my own convictions and be able to defend them. Today my faith is the single most important factor that has enabled me to become who I am.  I thank my dad for teaching me to believe while living in a country without God.

These twelve points are just a few of the lessons I learned from my dad on how to lead and succeed. I hope these lessons add value to your leadership journey.

While every father has deficiencies, my dad has been a great example and influence in my life. Dad, I love you, and I’m so grateful that you’re part of my life!

Happy Father's Day to all of the Dads out there. Your children (of all ages) are watching and listening. They see how you navigate your life and career, and are learning the lessons that will shape their futures. What lessons are you teaching them? What lessons have you learned from your father?  I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.