As we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I get a little nostalgic thinking about some of the life lessons I learned from these two remarkable people in my life.
When I speak to corporate audiences, I often include a lesson about integrity and corporate ethics: “Act like your mother is watching.” I’ve lived my life that way, and it’s never failed me.
My mother was a school teacher and taught me the power of education. I didn’t always listen eagerly, but it instilled in me a desire of continuous education throughout my life. You are not in school once in your lifetime; you are in school all of your life. Education is an investment, not an expense.
My father taught me about time management. I still remember him telling me if I wanted to go fishing, I should be on the dock at 2 p.m. sharp. There I was at 2:05 p.m., waving bon voyage to my dad who was driving away in the boat without his fishing buddy. Tough love, lesson learned.
There were several tough love lessons that really helped me in business. I remember one in particular.
“Just slide down the banister, and I’ll catch you,” he urged.
“But how do I know you’ll catch me?” I asked.
“Because I’m your father, and I said I would catch you.”
I slid and landed on the carpet. As I dusted myself off, my dad announced, “Be careful whom you trust when it comes to business. Remember that business is business.” This bumpy ride lesson stuck with me and helped me make sure that any business arrangements are backed up with yards of paper. Agreements prevent disagreements.
My folks also taught me that I could make a difference in the world. They always pointed out how ordinary people did wonderful things. It only takes one person to make things better.
My dad insisted that 25 percent of my time should be spent on volunteering, advice I’ve continued to follow. When you volunteer, in addition to the benefit to the organization, you have an unusual opportunity to hone your selling skills, learn how to run meetings, prepare reports, serve on committees, supervise others, handle rejection and many other skills that can help you in your career, all while serving your community.
One of the most powerful things you can do to influence others is to smile at them, my dad said. Not to be outdone, my mother used to tell me that a smile is an inexpensive way to improve my looks, “If you’re happy, tell your face.”
About reputation, my dad quoted the adage, “You spend your whole lifetime building a good name and reputation, and one foolish act can destroy it.”
I took his words to heart, and aside from building long-term relationships, there is nothing more important than a good reputation in building a successful business. Without a positive reputation, success is elusive.
There are many people who were at the top of their game when they made one fatal mistake – due to poor judgment, arrogance or the inability to do the right thing. Reputations are destroyed, and all the money in the world can’t buy them back.
Also important, Jack Mackay taught me about networking. I was fortunate. My father headed the Associated Press in St. Paul, and was a master networker. He got me started at age 18. He sat me down and gave me the simple yet effective suggestion of putting every person I met for the rest of my life onto a Rolodex card, now called a contact management system. He told me to put a little information about each person on the back of the card, and to update it.
And now here is the real key. You must find a creative way to keep in touch. Little did I know how much my father’s advice would dramatically help me in the future and actually change my life.
When I was a kid, my dad would take me to his office. It was a wonderful place. The walls were covered with photos, tickets and other memorabilia. Linking everything together were my dad’s favorite aphorisms. Some were straight from fortune cookies. I discovered that these little gems were a great way to remember a lesson. As a result, I’ve been an aphorism junkie all my life, and end all my book chapters and columns with a Mackay’s Moral. Thanks, mom and dad.
Mackay’s Moral: Lessons learned in childhood are anything but child’s play.