At the 2018 CHC Safety & Quality Summit in Dallas I attended a plenary session titled “Creating a Culture of Behavioral Reliability and High Performance”. At one point the presenter asked us “who in our lives would we regard as a natural leader – someone who inspired us?” I quickly thought of several cool “bosses” I have been lucky enough to work for but the most important person in my life eventually came to mind. Stan Shilson, my godfather, was important to me because he taught me the value of hard work and the serenity of natural leadership.
A natural leader is inspiring to those who wish to contribute but don’t know how or don’t know they have it in them. A natural leader inspires others with their drive and energy. A natural leader speaks and listens from the heart, radiating both kindness and generosity. A natural leader encourages rather than dictates. A natural leader enables rather than controls. A natural leader does not dwell on problems but rather enables those around him/her to find solutions. A natural leader is calm and not critical.
Stan had worked for the Winnipeg Free Press since returning from the Second World War. During his holidays and after retirement he helped to harvest wild rice with my family each fall. Plus I worked for his “office cleaning and management” business in the city during the evenings and weekends when I was attending university.
The most important lesson Stan passed onto me was that as long as I could find it in myself to do a job well I too could inspire others to do the same. Stan “pushed” me in some ways: preparing for the next days work, getting up earlier than anyone else, keeping my breaks down to a minimum, finishing the job properly even if it took several tries – the kind of things I imagine a Staff Sergeant might expect from his troops. But when it came time to decide on “how” to do a job he would stop everything, direct me over to the nearest rock or log to sit down, chuckle a little to himself and then ask me “how do you think we should get this done?”
The problem to finding your own inspirational leader is for you to recognize the opportunity. When Stan asked me to find a solution to a work problem he also recognized my ability to do the job. He knew, even if I doubted it myself, I was ready. Even when I failed to meet my goals he encouraged me to go out again and never give up. In all cases, I recognized that he was leading from within. It was never about him and always about encouraging me to recognize a positive outcome. Even at the time (I am talking about when I was 14 to 20 years old) I recognized that he never acted as my boss but always as my godfather.
If you cannot think of a single inspirational boss then think about a friend or a relative or a sergeant or, if you are lucky, a godfather and dig deep inside your memories to find an act or a moment where they inspired you to do something – anything. If you were encouraged to find a solution on your own and not told “how to do it”: if you were enabled and not constrained with “what to do”: if you were empowered and not pushed to “get the job done”: if you were encouraged to do your best and not criticized because it wasn’t “done their way”, then it was because you were inspired by the kindness and generosity of a natural leader.
If you can find that experience inside of you then there is a good chance you too can become a leader and learn to inspire others. If you are a natural leader than maybe this exercise of perspective will help you recognize your inner godfather.
For our Canadian Remembrance Day November 11th, 2018 I wrote this tribute to my friend and godfather who passed away at the age of 88.
Lest we Forget:
Stanley Victor Shilson was a good friend of the family and my godfather. Stan served in the Royal Canadian Artillery with my uncle, Ron Wesley Goulet, and befriended my father, Lorne Alfred Goulet, who was in the infantry. The insignia on his jacket (three downward pointing chevrons) signifies that Stan was a non-commissioned officer or specifically a Staff Sergeant.
All three enlisted in the war and shipped off to England and Europe to fight for the liberation of France, Belgium and Holland and continued through the fierce fighting of the Black Forest into Germany. All three made it home safely to raise their own families.
As I was growing up in the ’60’s and ’70’s Stan was an early-to-rise, hard working, kind and fun-loving godfather who never told me what to do but rather asked me what I thought, helped me through the decision making process and then encouraged me to do carry out the decision myself. I miss him greatly. Stan’s contribution to our country, along with my uncle’s and father’s, is immeasurable and should never be forgotten.