Years ago, I went to the funeral of a CEO friend. As her employees came forward and gave their tributes, they talked about how she gave them chances and helped them get their careers started, how when they were going through hardships or when their kids were sick, she stuck with them. They talked about how she looked after them with love and compassion. Her employees talked about her like they loved her.
I’m embarrassed to admit that my immediate reflection was, “If this was my funeral, would anyone come, and, if so, what would they say about me?” And I had to face the hard truth that although I had developed some close relationships with family and friends, I hadn’t sown the seeds of relationships in my professional life like my friend had, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know how.
They say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. It wasn’t long after her funeral that my brother gave a sermon titled “Faithfulness/Fidelity.” More than any words I’d heard before or after, that sermon set the framework for how I have come to approach relationships with the people in my life.
He said, “Every person you ever trust and then commit to will hurt you. They will let you down. They will anger you, embarrass you, frustrate you, bewilder and disappoint you. In every relationship you are ever in, you will have moments where it will require all your effort to continue to believe in this person’s good intentions for you. Faithfulness is granting permission for people not to be perfect. Faithfulness is refusing to believe that the other person is really as bad as they may have acted toward you. When it comes to our relationships, let’s forget talk about remaining faithful to people and instead focus on maintaining faith in them.”
After hearing that sermon, I decided I was going to be the last guy to ever give up on an employee. I was going to hang in there for people and look for those who would hang in there for me. And that we would make redemption a fundamental aspect of our culture at the Foodbank.
The stories those people told about my friend were not about how well she ran a meeting. They were not about what she paid her people. They were about how she treated them when they were vulnerable or at their worst.
When we talk about the honor of a job well done, we’re talking about the honor of a life well lived. A life where our commitment toward truth and kindness and love compels us forward, back into the messes of life, with hopefulness that goodness will result.
When the sculptor Michelangelo was asked how he created his masterpiece, he said, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it.” The same is true with our characters.
Daniel Flowers is president and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Under Dan’s direction, the Foodbank has been consistently named one of the NorthCoast 99 Great Workplaces and the Feeding America Food Bank of the Year in 2012.