R.I.P. Don M.

Don's retirement party, February  12, 2013.

Don’s retirement party, February 12, 2013.

“Daddy passed away peacefully in his sleep last night.” It was one of those Facebook posts that just stops you in your tracks. A client of mine had just forwarded me the message Don M.’s daughter had posted on her Facebook page about her father. He knew I would want to know what had happened with Don. Just several months ago Don had retired as the CFO from my client’s company.

Don was the definition of “old school.” He was tough, rough, abrasive, and let’s just say that he was not the guy at the top of your list you would go to if you needed a hug. When I first started working with this client I was warned about him like he was the corporate junk yard dog ready for attack. Truth is the moment we met he reminded me of all the “old school” retail leaders I appreciated during my time at SAM’S Club and Wal-Mart. Guys who seemed larger than life. I was a little afraid of them and at the same time a part of me wanted to be them. They had an uncanny knack for calling you out and so did Don. As a matter of fact, I quickly learned that when he would get that perplexed look on his face, scowl and say, “you Jack@$$” it was actually his greatest term of endearment. I know that’s not politically correct. I know that would not fit inside most companies. I know it’s weird but it was some of the best encouragement ever from a guy who just wanted to tell you the truth. Here’s a small example of what I mean from one of the last conversations I had with Don in his office. I was getting his input on some leadership training I was going to do at his company.

What’s the job of a leader?

By now, I had gotten to know Don quite well and to the surprise of everyone in the office he would actually leave the office with me and go out for a cup of coffee. I had just pitched my elaborate plan for leadership development. Surely he was amazed by my presentation. My insight. My energy. He leaned back in his chair, grinned and asked, “What is the job of a leader?” I went for my best text book definition but before I could get a few words out he stopped me, “In just one or two words…what’s the role of a leader?” I went for the ultimate John Maxwell, “Leadership is influence” definition knowing that would silence him. It didn’t. “You jack@$$! Why do you guys keep making this stuff so complicated. The job of a leader is to lead.”

Simplicity is genius. I never had a meeting with Don in which I did not walk away with some insight and sincerely feeling encouraged. We did connect and I knew whatever he said to me was for my benefit although the way he said it may have been more direct than my style. And here’s a secret…Don liked me. I would even go so far as to say that he cared about me. Once I was visiting his office on my birthday and he had a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, including a candle, just for me. I really did care about him too. One of the last things I remember him telling me as I asked him to do something after his retirement was he probably wouldn’t be around for what I wanted and, “You’ll do just fine son.”

I realize this may be an odd blog post but it’s my way of saying good bye to a friend and perhaps a way to remind us all that we should approach people the way gold miners do their work. When you mine for gold you have to move a lot of dirt when you start digging…But, it’s not the dirt you are looking for. When it comes to people go in looking for the gold and don’t get hung up on the dirt. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Rest in peace Don.
Your jack@$$,
Trey B.

Krispy Kreme Birthday Donuts from Don and Charles at P&A.

Krispy Kreme Birthday Donuts from Don and Charles at P&A.

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