What Will They Say When you Retire?
by Lisa King author of Just Do You: Authenticity, Leadership, and Your Personal Brand
I recently attended the retirement celebration of a former colleague and dear friend, Doug Whitehouse. It was a great evening, orchestrated by Doug’s former co-workers and went exactly as planned. It was a surprise event in his honor.
Doug and I worked together for just over 3 years, but after we met, I soon realized that I’d found a friend for life. Doug’s slim, tall frame towers over most people and he can seem a bit intimidating at times. With his round glasses and probing questions, he often resembles a professor. He can be serious when he’s up against a deadline or when solving a difficult problem. He expects a lot from the people with whom he works. Doug wants them to do their best work and will accept nothing less.
When someone has a question or is struggling, Doug will stop everything to listen. His probing questions are purposeful and meant to help others find the answers so they can grow. Even though he’s serious, he has a terrific sense of humor, often breaking into various voices or sharing a self-deprecating story to ease tension. When he laughs, it’s like thunder booming and his smile lights up the room. Doug is also an amazing artist who would quietly place a handwritten thank you card on your desk to let you know how much he appreciates you. The cover of the card was one of his beautiful watercolors, which made it even more meaningful.
During his retirement celebration, several people stepped up to speak about Doug. I’ve attended other retirement events and heard many farewell speeches delivered by well-meaning co-workers. Most often, the speeches encourage the retiree to golf more, travel, spend time with family, find a new hobby, etc. Sometimes people share funny stories or there’s a bit of roasting. Although there was a little of this sprinkled throughout the speeches at Doug’s event, I quickly realized that the sentiment was drastically different than any other event I’d attended.
Each person who stepped forward to share a story or message about Doug spoke of how he had impacted their lives. Doug helped them grow. He helped them achieve more than they’d expected. He could be stern in an effort to challenge others, and each person acknowledged how this had helped push them outside their comfort zone. He was also recognized for his kindness and interest in each person’s success. They knew he cared and was there for them. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
It was a bittersweet experience. On one hand, this kind of recognition of a great leader was well-deserved. Yet, I felt sad that the company and employees no longer had this unique, authentic leader who meant so much to so many. I also deeply reflected on the other retirement parties I’d attended and the lack of real connection to those leaders. Why aren’t there more Dougs?
Doug has changed lives. His authentic leadership style has a broad and lasting impact on others. And those who were fortunate enough to experience his wisdom and leadership now have the obligation to create their own legacy of authentic leadership. The world needs authentic leaders like Doug.
This quote from John Quincy Adams perfectly expresses Doug’s leadership style:
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
If you are fortunate enough to have a Doug in your life, tell them how much they mean to you. Let them know how they’re positively impacting your life and making you better. And if you don’t have a leader like Doug in your life, YOU have the power to be the leader you wish you had.