An Early Leadership Lesson from My Late Father: Why People Are Committed to the Compassionate Leader Who Shares His or Her Fire

Sharing Fire - Respect and Fear

My father, Melvin Hardy, was a charismatic guy. He was the first barber in Granger, Indiana, drove a school bus, and served as a Harris Township volunteer fireman for many years. As a result, he knew everyone in the community and was often referred to as “The Mayor of Granger.” He was well loved not just because he was outgoing, but because he cared. And that was his leadership secret.

He eventually left the barber business and became the operational manager for Goldblatz’s Department store. After five or so years, when I was about 15, Goldblatz decided to open a 50,000 square foot home furnishings showroom next door in a vacant building. My father was hoping to run the new store, but instead the leadership hired a salesman who was excellent at selling carpet, but had no experience in management. My father, on the other hand, was well respected by his employees, especially the stock boys who were about as low as you could be on the career food chain. I know, because I worked as one during my high school years.

The new store was about a week from opening and conflict between the carpet salesman and the employees became very thick. The more pressure he experienced, the more he yelled and threatened his employees. The stock boys from my father’s store were hired in their off-time to help do the physical labor of setting the furnishings up – carpet laying, walls, furniture placement, etc.. Three days before the grand opening, they and the other employees had enough abuse and they no longer cared whether the store was ready to open its doors or not. Very little was getting done and it was clear that opening day was going to be a disaster.

The carpet salesman was fired, and they asked my father if he thought he could get the store ready in 48 hours. He decided to give it a try, and 48 hours later the store opened, fully furnished. The stock boys and other employees worked 48 hours straight without stopping because they respected my father. The only thing he promised them was that when it was all over, and the store was open, he would make sure they had the best party of their life. And he held true to his promise.

When I asked him how he did it when the other guy couldn’t, he smiled and said “Because I treat employees like they are important and they matter. And I worked right along with them to let them know that I was willing to get dirty too.” And it struck me that the real reason he was successful was because he motivated people by respecting them. He didn’t use threats or fear. He simply cared about those he led, and those he led followed. When he passed away at the age of 44 from a heart condition, more than 1,000 people attended his funeral. Almost all of them had a moving story about something my father had done for them that showed he cared. And that experience convinced me that the true litmus test of our abilities as leaders will be the stories that others tell about us when we are gone. Do you know what kinds of stories others will tell about you?

12 thoughts on “An Early Leadership Lesson from My Late Father: Why People Are Committed to the Compassionate Leader Who Shares His or Her Fire

  • Wonderful story, Marc. It could teach a lot to those bosses who are arrogant enough to think they meet goals all on their own, and therefore, do not have to consider nor respect those that work for them. Unfortunately, they are probably the ones who won’t read this.

  • Thank you for sharing this story about your dad with us. He sounds like a great guy. You were lucky to have such a good father. I’m sorry that he passed at such a young age.

    • Thanks Randy, yes, he was a great guy. I think about him often and even at my age now I still wish he was around to talk to. I hope you are doing well, and that your own father is still alive and part of your life.

  • Reading about dad reminded me how he instilled a work ethic in all of those he helped raise, including his younger brothers and all of our friends. He was an amazing man. Even after being gone nearly 37years, I still hear stories about how he touched other peoples lives.

  • Melvin sounds a lot like my dad 🙂 Also my dad used to pretend he was going to turn into the incredible hulk which is something I now do today on the streets of Hollywood.

  • I knew your father andhe was every bit the man you described. I could always count on him when I needed a stage set or support with the drama program at Penn High School. I treasured his friendship.

    • Thanks Bill, he thought the world of you as well. I think he always wanted to be in the theatre and you gave him that opportunity, as you did with me as well. I hope you read my blog on here about you, it was one of my first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *