“You know, we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”
– Dr. “Moonlight” Graham to Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams
One of the traits that I have been very lucky to possess (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the genetics; Thanks, Mary, for the constant reminders) is the ability to actually recognize the significance of an event as it is occurring. This ability has manifested itself in countless business and personal scenarios in my life.
Many years ago, when my son, Matthew, was in Little League, he had finished up his game and we were heading to the parking lot. They had just lost a “nail-biter” and I offered him a Lifesaver (Millennials, you know what to do). Unlike my baseball playing days, where we rode to the game on our bikes and hung our baseball glove over the handlebars, Matthew’s friends all had “equipment bags.” The bags, made especially for baseball, held your glove, shoes, bat (in my day, we had two bats for the whole team), batting gloves, elbow protectors, shin protectors, compression sleeve, and a laminated index card with illustrated, step-by-step instructions on the proper way to touch your heart and point to heaven after hitting a homerun. We were walking behind two of his teammates and their fathers. We watched as both teammates handed the overstuffed baseball equipment bag to their dads. Each dad dutifully slung the bag over his shoulder and kept walking.
Within a few seconds, I looked down to see Matthew switching his bag from his right hand to his left and then holding it up for me to carry. I looked into his sweet little dirty face with his crooked grin and said, “I’m not your caddy. If you want all the equipment, then you carry all the equipment.”
A couple of weeks later, we were again leaving the ballpark after a game. Matthew was comfortably carrying his own bag as he had performed the appropriate cost/benefit analysis and determined that the potential yield of the extra equipment did not create enough significant positive cash flow to offset the “carrying cost” — business speak. Ahead of us, one of Matthew’s teammates tried to hand his equipment bag to his dad. I heard the dad reply, “I’m not your caddy.”
In terms of your professional life, setting an example based of your values and trying to live that example works in business. The direct report who you are counseling will benefit from your input and example. The added benefit is all of the others that are watching and learning from you that you are not even aware of.
Many years later, I had two other shared experiences with Matthew. The first was the summer after his freshman year at High Point University. He had endured three roommate changes, having his car stolen, and the diagnosis and ultimate passing of his Nonna (my Mom) from pancreatic cancer. The kid needed some joy. I surprised him with a trip to London with the highlight (at least for us) being VIP seats at Bruce Springsteen’s epic concert in Hyde Park in front of 100,000 people. The night of the show, it rained. It didn’t just rain — it dumped. But over 3 ½ hours, Bruce did not disappoint. Then, just when we thought the show was over, fireworks lit up the sky and Bruce brought Paul McCartney onstage for an encore of “Twist and Shout.” There we were, in the pouring rain, dancing like fools. I paused and looked over at Matthew. I will never forget the smile on his face.
It hit me immediately – I think this may be one of the happiest moments of my life and I am recognizing it as it happens.
In business, as if life, joy and heartbreak do not give you advance warning. Good leaders – and good parents – make the most of each unexpected opportunity.
The last experience happened about a year ago. Matthew – and Bruce – were also involved. I was in New York and Matthew and I were going to see Bruce at Madison Square Garden. I was also in the last frantic stages of closing the deal that would sell the firm I had built from scratch over the past 15 years, Equity Risk Partners, to Hub International (a great partner and, ultimately, a great outcome). While Matthew sat in our seats, I was in the lobby sending out last minute emails and providing final confirmations. I hit “Send” on the final correspondence right as the lights came down and the “Bruuuuuuuuce” rose up. I ran inside and proceeded to sing and dance with Matthew for about 2 hours. During a lull (if there is such a thing at a Springsteen concert), I stepped out into the lobby for a bathroom break and to check in on the deal. I saw I had two emails. One was from my new Hub colleague and the other from my investment banker. Both proceeded to confirm that the sale had, indeed, closed and congratulated me on reaching the pinnacle of my life’s work. I proceeded into the bathroom to the far stall where, without warning or expectation, I burst into tears. I had put everything I had into building the firm and it all came pouring out. It was slightly embarrassing but I was comforted by the fact that most of the other guys standing next to me just assumed that I was a passionate Bruce fan… or drunk.
I went back to our seats. Matthew, who had been aware of all that was going on with sale of the company looked at me quizzically with my red, puffy eyes. It was Matthew, 15 years earlier as a 7-year-old, who designed our logo. I barely mouthed “It’s done” before I started to cry again. And, then, my 22-year-old son, without a hint of self-consciousness, in the middle of a Bruce Springsteen concert, leaned over and hugged me…and then, patted me on the head. As it was happening, I thought, “I am going to remember this moment for the rest of my life.”
It is OK for leaders – and fathers – to be vulnerable and human. Emotion binds people. Open yourself up to your colleagues, friends, and family. They will surprise you with their support, compassion, and creativity. You may even get a pat on the head!
“I’d best be getting home. Alicia will think I’ve got a girlfriend.”
Dr. Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.