Five Lessons from my Father
Several weeks ago, my iRelaunch co-founder Carol Cohen wrote a blog about nurses returning to work after a career break. For some reason, the blog unleashed a torrent of comments, mostly from young nurses complaining about old nurses or old nurses complaining about young nurses. While reading the comments trashing “the older generation,” I couldn’t help but reflect on the wisdom I have gained from my father, an 84-year-old businessman who is still working and thriving. So, without further ado, I present five lessons from my father.
1. They can’t pay you enough to do something you hate doing. Don’t get me wrong. My father enjoys making money and has been quite successful at it, but whenever I was trying to make decisions about my career, he always encouraged me to choose the option most in line with my interests, strengths and values.
2. When negotiating with a person or an institution, don’t feel you’ve got to get it all resolved NOW. You’ll often do better if you let the talks run their course. I remember my first real negotiation. I was trying to get a major lender to extend financing for an acquisition. The lender was one of those real “tough guys” who loved making people squirm. He would keep threatening me saying “if you guys don’t put this provision in, we’re walking.” I’d call my father and say “Dad, what do I do?” And my father would say, “you don’t have to answer him right now. Just keep moving along. Don’t feel like you have to address this particular point today. Talk about other provisions on which you can agree.” This was difficult but important advice for me to accept. By nature, I hate waiting and uncertainty. But this strategy has proved so powerful in so many situations that I simply put myself into “Dad negotiating mode” whenever necessary and prepare myself to hunker down and wait it out.
3. To be successful in business, sometimes it’s a matter of outlasting the competition. Again, this advice ran counter to my nature. I was used to quick results and quick success. And earlier in my life I often bailed out of promising ventures a year or two too soon. Now I see that it takes years to build a name and a reputation, and if you take the time to do so you could end up outshining your flash-in-the-pan competitors.
4. Be open but focused. My father has taught me this more by example than by word. I’ve seen him seize on opportunities that he came across almost randomly, but they always built upon the core of his business. So while he was opportunistic, he never seemed to be “all over the place.” I keep this in mind as Carol and I bump into potential ideas and business partners. We ask ourselves: does this person or organization fit with our general direction and goals or is it more peripheral?
5. At the end of the day, all you’ve really got is your reputation. My father learned this himself—the hard way. He was definitely cocky and overconfident early in his career. He occasionally burned bridges and let his pride get in the way. But as he aged he mellowed. He learned to fully value developing and preserving relationships. He’s grown from being a “young buck” into an elder statesman, with all the diplomatic skills that implies. I only hope I’ll have at least half the name he has.