Leadership Lessons from Dad

Recently, I wrote a post on what I gained from an extended visit with my 91-year-old father (https://mrhensonllc.com/time-with-dad/).  That time, as well as my ongoing visits and phone conversations with Dad, got me thinking about what leadership lessons I learned from Dad.

My Dad made the leap from individual contributor (Drilling Mud Engineer) to manager in 1968 when he was promoted to District Manager.  Apparently, Dad had been a good Mud Engineer and his company (Baroid) promoted him to a position that had a few engineers, truck drivers, warehousemen, and administrative support reporting to him.

I was a young boy at this time, but I thought it was a great move for Dad and our family, even if we had to move from Weatherford, Oklahoma to Pampa, Texas.  The reason I thought it was a good move was that it meant that Dad would have more time at home with us.  As a Drilling Mud Engineer, Dad had to monitor drilling fluids for multiple wells in his area.  It was a demanding job that took him away from us a lot.  I was glad to have him around more!

One thing I remember about this transition was that Dad picked up a book or two on management (I remember Peter Drucker’s The Practice of Management being one of them).  I was naturally curious and was glad Dad always made time to discuss the books and what he was learning whenever I asked.

Dad’s move into management changed my mind about what career I wanted to follow.  As a boy, I wanted to be a Drilling Mud Engineer like Dad when I grew up.  I was devastated when I found out that I couldn’t because of my colorblindness (this was before PH meters, when you had to determine the PH of the drilling mud using a treated piece of paper that changed colors depending upon the PH level).  My mom, whose father was colorblind, worked with me about accepting my colorblindness.  She found out that I could be a pharmacist and be colorblind.  Once Dad became a manager, I decided I wanted to be a manager – Management was my first major in college.

Dad worked for Baroid for over 30 years, with over 20 years in supervisory/managerial roles.  During this time, I watched Dad at work and listened to his stories about work.  I’ve learned a few lessons from him:

  1. Study areas of your job you don’t know.  Just as Dad bought and studied books on management, I applied this practice many times during my career.  The study can include book reading, internet searches, and discussions with experts.
  2. Study your new organization.  Observe as much as you can without making any judgment calls (if you can avoid it).  Get to know your people as well as the organization chart.  Recognize that when a new leader shows up, people will request things the previous leader denied.  Make sure you seek all sides to any story or request.
  3. Get to know your people.  This aspect is an integral part of my personal leadership model (see previous post).  As John C. Maxwell would say “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I can remember Dad making many home and hospital visits.  He knew a lot about the people that worked for him.  He made quite an impression when he showed up at a wake for a union employee in New Orleans.  They had never seen any manager or supervisor outside of work – it made quite a positive impact.
  4. Stand up for your people.  Dad advocated strongly for employees he believed in.  I remember a few times that the first thing Dad told his boss when he was notified of a new job was who the boss should pick to replace him.
  5. Be loyal to your employer, but don’t roll over.  Dad was very loyal to Baroid.  There were a few times when things occurred that he didn’t agree with.  He was always vocal about sharing his opinion.  Once he shared his opinion, he returned to doing his job as well as he could.
  6. Tough negotiators don’t have to be jerks.  Dad has many stories about various negotiations.  One theme from all of them is that he had respect for who he was negotiating with.  He lived by the “it’s business not personal” creed.  I tried to emulate this in my negotiating style.  I still have friendships with people I negotiated with.  Mutual respect is the foundation of successful negotiating (in my opinion).  I plan on writing a few posts on negotiating, so stay tuned!
  7. Let your record speak for itself.  Dad wasn’t one to “toot his own horn,” both at work and outside of work.  He spoke up for himself, but let his results do the most talking.  I came to embrace this in my career. 
  8. Stories can have a positive impact.  Dad is famous in our family for his stories (some of them we’ve heard more than once!).  He is able to defuse situations with stories.  He was also able to connect with people easily using stories.  While I enjoyed sharing stories, I also tried to make sure I didn’t tell them to the same people too many times!  (If I did, and you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)
  9. You have to make hard decisions in order to succeed.  Dad is always free with me about some tough decisions he had to make.  Telling me about the issues lets me know that I am not alone in the process.  I could always discuss my tough situations with Dad.  He can commiserate and advise at the same time.
  10. Quiet anger can be effective.  Dad was never one to yell.  He could affect my behavior very strongly simply by telling me he was disappointed in what I did.  I recognized the power in this.  I also don’t think yelling or losing your cool at work is the way a professional would behave.  I know from feedback that my anger was evident in other ways.  I also know that it brought about positive changes.
  11. Do the right thing.  Dad is a strong Christian.  He firmly believes in doing the right thing.  He believes that right will win in the end, and so do I.  I’ve never felt bad about doing the right thing!
  12. Enjoy the ride.  Dad really enjoyed his job.  It showed in his actions at work and at home.  I like this approach.  I lived by the belief that we should have fun at work.  The more we enjoy the people we work with, the more we can accomplish.  I try to have fun.  Life is too short!

As you can tell from this post and the other post about spending time with Dad, I love my father.  I am rather proud to call him a friend as well as my father.  My Dad was my best man at my wedding.  I still can’t think of a better person.

I’d love to hear your comments.  What did you think of the 12 lessons?

Henson family, 1960. I’m on my Dad’s lap. He was 30 in this picture.

4 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons from Dad

  1. Ian ter Haar

    Great Mike, wonderful life lessons!
    Many thanks for sharing.
    I try to share my dads lessons and have invented a few of my own, the so called Iansophisies.
    Hope you are well and seen you again soon.
    Warm regards,

    1. mrhensonllc Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, Ian. I’d like to hear some iansophisies – we should get together and share over a nice meal and a cocktail or two!

  2. Carl Collins

    Mike. Love seeing your posts and reflections of life. As you know my Dad turned 80 last year July 4. One of Gods greatest blessings is our ability to learn from others, especially our Dads. See ya soon.

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