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Everyday Heroes

Timeless Wisdom from Quiet Mentors

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We all have them. Those powerfully impactful leaders who drift through our career landscape for days or years at a time.  Despite many having no idea of their impact, they leave lasting imprints that shape the leaders we become.

As summer days turn to autumn leaves, it is a season of reflection and gratitude. In this vein, below are four pieces of timeless advice applicable to leaders of all kinds. Let this be a tribute, not only to these everyday heroes in my career but to all those who have crossed your path as well. 

You must dig the trenches, then the water will flow.

  • Bob O’Leary

The most humble man I have ever met, Robert O’Leary is a tower of wisdom, experience and grace.  A Georgetown grad, he began his career working on Capitol Hill on initiatives of societal importance like supporting the work of the National Organization for Women and the Equal Rights Amendment. Back in his home state of Michigan, he was the chief-deputy-director of the Commerce Department and later served as Governor Blanchard’s deputy-chief-of-staff and the president of the Michigan Accident Fund.  Recruited to Florida by Governor Lawton Chiles, his humility and authenticity made him a masterful change agent and the reinvention and restructuring guru of the Executive Staff.  He was responsible for closing the Commerce Department, restructuring the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, creating Enterprise Florida and Workforce Florida, Redesigning the Labor Department, merging the Departments of Administration and General Services into DMS, and much more. But if you were to ask him, he’d simply say he was a guy in a closet office under the stairs.

As a big picture thinker and future-focused leader, Bob was always ahead of the curve. He conceived problems and their subsequent solutions before others even sounded the alarm. His words and actions provided a powerful example of forging through doubtful voices of others and instead remaining steadfast toward the greater good ahead. Throughout my career, I have harkened back to this sentiment often. Work hard for what you believe in, even when no one appreciates it. They will eventually. Leaders often must perform the hard work of digging the trenches of new ideas, processes or paths so that others may follow. In the end, if your desire is to leave this world a better place, then you dig, not with resentment of the extra work, but with great exhilaration and pride, for you alone can later stand on the bank and revel in the water that flows behind.

In life there are glass balls and rubber balls, only one can bounce back when dropped.

  • Harry Bull, EdD

Harry Bull spent his life educating others. As a teacher, principle, and later Superintendent, he impacted thousands of students and educators over his more than 40-year career. His jovial and warm demeanor is immediately disarming while his no-nonsense, low maintenance leadership garners instant admiration. 

In one of our first meetings, he imparted this wisdom on work-life balance that has been a staple in my decision making since. In life we are constantly juggling. And while there are dozens of rubber balls, i.e. career, friendship, civic commitments, reputation, wealth etc., there are only a few glass balls in life, namely family and health. Societal and career pressures can skew our judgment and fuel fears about the consequences of dropping anything in our lives will be devastating. However, if we are truthful, careers can be reimagined, friendships and commitments can be reformed, finances can be redeemed, and reputations can be restored. The same cannot be said for health and family. Far too often we allow life to become so full that we lose sight of which balls are which and risk allowing the glass to shatter, to dramatic and often life altering consequences.  As leaders, it is even more critical that we never lose sight of what we hold in our hands. There is often no such thing as work life balance, but in the everyday juggle, let us always protect what cannot replace.

You can’t set yourself on fire trying to keep others warm.

  • Fred Seamon, PhD

There is a distinct shift in the energy of the room when Fred Seamon walks in. It is unclear if it is his mile-wide smile or the warmth in which he greets everyone he meets like an old friend. Either way, Fred is a legend to anyone who has the pleasure of knowing him.

He began his career in late 1960s in the juvenile court system and over 50 years later he is still fighting for equality and diversity. While on the graduate faculty at Florida State University (FSU) and at the Pepper Institute on Aging he conducted several major research studies related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in public employment and social and economic disparities among minority elderly populations. His experience includes providing diversity training to law enforcement personnel via the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Senior Leadership Program, the Florida Department of Highway Safety Management Fellows Program and the Department of Insurance Executive Institute.  He was recently an invited participant in the White House Conference Call for African American Stakeholders on COVID-19 and the CARES Act, April 2020.

However, all of these accomplishments pale in comparison to the living, breathing example of leadership he is as a man. He is the first to say yes to any opportunity that will add value to those he cares for, be that his family, company, community or church.  He will never ask of you what he will not do himself.  He is the cheerful rally to a team that is down.  He is the insightful influencer in times of controversy. And he is a voice of reason during times of distress.

Upon seeking his steady council for a decision weighing heavy on my heart, he was all too willing to put aside his busy schedule to listen, comfort and reflect. The lessons he shared were powerful reminders. Be confident in the value you add. Set and keep limits on what you can healthily give of yourself.  Be willing to walk away from what doesn’t serve you. There is always another door to open.

I’ve got you. How may I serve?

  • Jen Pastiloff

Author, retreat leader, genuine human – this might be how Jen describes herself. Inspirational example of servant leadership is how she is known by all who love her. For nearly five years I have watched as Jen put her voice and her platform to use for the greater good. Raising money for others in need, she allowed it to be personal rather than generically philanthropic. It was a mother who lost their child or a family who lost their home. They had names and faces and souls.

However, true servant leadership goes much deeper, its serving others even before you serve yourself. It’s being an example of inspiration and aspiration. Similar to others, COVID’s travel bans and lockdowns effectively shut down her business. Rather than wallow in her own loss, she put her energy into rallying celebrities and friends together to raise money for others. For service workers, for struggling artists, for those who lost loved ones to the pandemic. All of this done in her signature no-filter authenticity. May we all work to hold space and serve others every day through our own leadership.

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