Leadership Lessons I have learned from my In-Laws

Many of you will read this title and think I am writing a satirical piece, but I write this post this morning in all sincerity.  I am extremely blessed to have married more than a wonderful wife over 29 years ago and I can honestly say that my in-laws have taught me many lessons that have made me a better leader in my personal and professional life.  I’ll try to include a few stories so that you can understand the context of my learning.  Context is of great value when we learn and the context of my learning is sometimes painful, but often humorous.

Here are a few lessons I have learned:

1.  Think before you speak.

My wife and I started dating in 1980 and there was also a mayoral election taking place in Murray, KY where we were both undergrads.  One of the candidates was a professor at the University and the other was an older gentleman from the community.  We were at my wife’s home one afternoon when I made a comment about the mayoral race.  The non-university candidate was Holmes Ellis and I made the comment “Who is this old coot, Holmes Ellis?”  Without an ounce of emotion my future mother-in-law replied “That old coot is my uncle.”  Needless to say, I didn’t make any more comments about that election and she told uncle Holmes, the mayor, that story many times and he always got a good laugh out of it.

2.  Patience is a virtue when you are working with someone who is under stress

Early in our marriage we had many challenges we dealt with.  We married in September 1982 and six months later I lost my job due to a reduction in force in March 1983.  Eight days later my father died and then one month later my wife graduated from college and we moved for my new job.  Three months after that we moved again when I took another job.  If you have ever taken one of those surveys that show stressful issues in your life you will see that I “topped the charts” during that first 12 months.  All through that time my in-laws stood beside us and supported us.  That has never changed some 29 years later.

3.  Your role as a parent/mentor never stops

You already know that I have been married for over 29 years, but you should also realize that my wife and I have raised two sons, one of whom graduated from college in 2010, and the other who will graduate in 2012.  My sons are extremely blessed by the fact that they have maintained a solid, strong relationship with their grandparents throughout their lives.  If you are a new parent you will learn that your child will listen to you less and less as they become a teenager, but they do come back around.  One of the most sound strategies we learned is that it takes a family (or a scout troop) to raise a child.  Many things we would try to impress upon our child were better heard from their grandparents or other parents they knew and respected.  This strategy works; don’t underestimate it!  The correlation in the workplace has to do with your direct reports.  They may not  hear what you have to say, but keeping them connected to  others who will support your wishes and goals is of great value.

4.  Knowledge is great, but wisdom is greater

When we are young we gain a lot of knowledge and that knowledge can make us feel that we “know it all.”  Wisdom is gained from experience and many practices I have employed as  a leader come from things I have learned from experiences I have gone through.  I have been fortunate to have been connected with great parents who died way too soon, but I have also learned a great deal from the servant hearts of my in-laws through watching their actions.  Leaders do the right thing, they just don’t talk about it.  I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the many times my in-laws have been servant leaders to their community in their neighborhood, their families or their church.  Leaders need to have the same servant heart.  The best leader will show others, they will model the appropriate behavior so that there is no confusion about  what is the appropriate thing to do.

This is just the beginning, but these four points are of great value to each of you as a leader, or a leader in formation:


1.  Think before you speak

2.  Patience is a virtue

3.  Your role as a mentor never stops

4.  Knowledge is great, but wisdom is greater


I hope you find this to be of value and I suspect many of you will get a chuckle out of my miss-steps.  My greatest learning opportunities come from challenges and mistakes and I am fortunate, and blessed, to have gotten stronger and wiser along the way.

Do you have a “wisdom-building” experience you can share?