"Somebody needs to be in charge!" "Press on!" My Uncle Harris often advised me with those words in our discussions about family or work related matters. His words were rooted in wide, hard and celebrated stories of leadership, from which I learned much. The time to cement this legacy came on December 7, 2011 when the Lord took him home.
Many of us do think about 'what we will leave behind.' Whether its leaving a career, business or the finality of life; the question is did I make a discernible footprint? And of course with family and children we may ask, did I teach them something sustainable or what will they remember about me, my work, how I spent my time or who I helped; all important things to ponder.
In reflection I now think about the take aways from my uncle's varied life experiences. Take charge, learn from your failures, have a purpose, be proud of your successes, grow through your flaws, be involved and accountable, don't be afraid to make tough decisions, stay faithful, trust the Lord, love and help your family.Yet, in spite of adhering to all of these tips, the job of leading can be unpopular and thankless. Be a realist in all things, my uncle also advised.
So where did these principles come from; what are the foundations grounded in the highs and lows of Uncle Harris's leadership story?
A thirty year career in the army with assignments in some of the highest levels of the military management structure at the right hand of 4 star generals taught him about maneuvering through politics, operations and taking care of the troops. Becoming an airborne ranger equipped him with a toughness to soldier on in the most difficult of situations such as his 2 tours in Vietnam. For the family he was firmly anchored as the middle son and go-to person in all types of crises. He believed in 'showing up" and was there for major events (successes or challenges) in our lives. After returning to our hometown of Waverly VA after retiring from the army, his wisdom and caring for the community led to his appointment as Chief Magistrate as well as Chair of the Board of Supervisors for our hometown's county of Sussex. Uncle Harris often shared lessons from anecdotes about the family's earlier years with their hard times economically but grounded in love and discipline. He believed in continuing to learn and went to college to get a B.A. degree while on active duty and his M.A. after retiring. And he loved God, openly, as a 'call and response' type deacon at church, giving his time and resources.