In the Presence of True Greatness

If leadership is an attempt to influence, there are any number of settings where it should be on visible display producing tangible results.

  • Elected officials should be introducing and implementing policy that unifies diverse constituents on solutions to highly complex problems (dream with me!)
  • Supervisors and directors within organizations should be effectively connecting their direct reports with executive management (and vice versa) in active pursuit of corporate goals
  • Sales professionals should be positioning their solutions with customers in a manner that establishes a solid foundation for mutually beneficial, long-term partnerships

But what about leadership in a family setting? What should that look like? In some respects, it bears similarity to the other arenas of influence already described, but is also clearly distinguished by a number of unique factors.

For instance, leadership in a family setting is traditionally the product of two people, who have equivalent levels of authority, speaking with one voice (and for the record, let’s all acknowledge that single parents in no way have it “twice as hard,” they have it “exponentially harder!”). Additionally, successful leadership in a family setting is somewhat akin to distilling good whiskey (i.e., it may take 50 years before you can confidently “crack the barrel” and assess the quality of the outcomes you have produced).

With all of that in mind, I would like to introduce you to a couple that I believe can serve as a picture of “what good looks like” for leadership in a family setting:

Married Couple

Dr. David and Harriett Gordon

I met them (and their extended family) a week or so ago. The occasion was their 70th wedding anniversary (not a misprint). “Kids” (in their 50s and 60s), grandkids and a few lucky guests like me had the opportunity to marvel at the impact of this leadership team. As a newcomer, I heard background stories about the couple that gave me a fantastic opportunity to practice my active listening skills:

    • “I don’t know if you know this but, when my dad was in the service, he received five Purple Hearts and the French Legion of Honor”
      • “I’m sorry, did you just say ‘five?’”
    • “He met my mother on the boardwalk in Jersey. She was 17 at the time and a junior in college”
      • “Did you say ’17’ and ‘college?’”
    • “They were married on Christmas Day in 1946, then moved all over the place until dad finished his Ph.D. at Georgia Tech”
      • “He got his doctorate at Georgia Tech?”
        • “Yes, organic chemistry”

Believe me, these are simply a representative sampling of the comments I overheard describing the guests of honor. True to form at events like these, we all sat down at the designated time to enjoy a feast that left no one wanting for more (massive understatement!). Post-dinner it was time for a piece of celebratory cake and a remark or two from “the kids” in attendance. All are successful protégés of David and Harriett in one way or another, but I found myself refreshingly stunned by the content of their commentary:

      • “I never thought about it too much at the time, but from a very early age I knew mom and dad worked extremely hard. Even still, that never stopped them from orchestrating these elaborate weekend excursions that were dedicated to us kids having the chance to experience something new and fun and memorable”
      • “We had a boat that never worked; it was hilarious!”
      • “They both had really high expectations for all of us and I can never remember a moment where they apologized for that or cut us any slack”
      • “I am just now coming to grips with how truly fortunate I was to grow up in this family”

As you heard these stories (and many, many more), and you glanced over at this picture …


… you could not help but recognize that you were indeed in the presence of true greatness (dang, this is good whiskey!). You simply had to be smart enough to recognize it.


  1. Seek out a matriarch or patriarch in your family, a friend’s family or at a senior assisted living facility of your choice.
  2. Practice your active listening skills by engaging them in conversation.