One never knows one walks with gods, till they go away.
As the Grateful Dead once sang, "What a long, strange trip it's been", which is just a different way of saying the now-cliched understatement that it has been a weird year. And as we finally reach the end of this year (with a promise that the next should be better, although it will still be a rough start), the similarly-cliched approach of looking back at the end of the year takes on a new poignancy.
A while ago I was reading a collection of essays written by Harlan Ellison that included a number of eulogies he had written over the years. (Yes, a collection that includes eulogies is, shall we say, unusual. But, trust me, it worked.) I got to thinking about eulogies and the kind words we say about people after they are gone.
We have all heard it, we have all said it, and we have all known it is true, but why do we wait to say all those nice things until those we speak of can no longer hear them?
Twice I've had the opportunity to use this blog to eulogize the passing of people who were important to me – a former CAE and my dad. I believe they already knew how I felt. And I don't think anything I wrote would have surprised them. But why take a chance? Why wait?
The following individuals have impacted my professional life. They are people that, for better or worse, made me whatever it is I am today. Over the years, these individuals have appeared in various guises – sometimes named, sometimes unnamed – in this blog, in various articles, and in my presentations. But I think this is a good time to call them out by name and share, with you and with them, what they have done for me.
Sue Neal was one of the two primary reasons I moved from accounting to internal audit. She was the audit manager who was in charge of the department, and much of my leadership style can be traced back to what I learned by watching Sue. For example, she empowered us before that was a buzzword, trusting in our ability to do quality work and, in the process, making us better internal auditors. And she was a supporter and cheerleader for everyone in the department. Her prompting got me involved in the achievement of various certifications. And her support raised my profile with those who made the decisions about promotions in internal audit.
Dave Sanders was the second primary reason I moved. Dave was the supervisor and, while teaching me the basics, the intermediates, and the advanced of internal audit, also taught me about the human side of being an internal auditor – particularly when it came to fraud investigations. One of the great pieces of advice he gave me was how important it was to do "regular" internal audit work, no matter how many fraud investigations might be going on. He advised that it was a good way to remember that not everybody is a crook.
Jeff Hadley was a co-worker during my initial sojourn into our home office and, if we had not been able to lean on each other, we might not have survived. But more importantly, Jeff introduced me to Tom Peters and the realities that existed beyond internal audit. And his constant desire for the new and different, while at the same time begging all of us to get back to the basics, pushed me in directions that allowed me to help move the audit department forward.
Chuck Boyer was another home office cohort who helped me survive that stint as a stranger in a strange land. Chuck helped me learn how data can be used to make internal audit more efficient. But, more importantly, Chuck was the person I turned to when I needed someone to challenge me. Chuck would argue, even if he agreed with me. And those arguments made my decisions stronger. I learned the importance of having someone who will be honest with you and someone who will challenge your assumptions.
Russell Powers showed me the human side of human resources and the role of humility in leadership. He came to internal audit, first as manager and then as director (and my boss), with no internal audit experience. But he was ready to learn. And his human resources background meant he knew a lot more than I did about how to lead people and how to work with them. We learned from each other. And, no surprise, I learned a lot more than he did, because I had so much more to learn.
James Hansen was a co-worker and eventually my boss. In both roles, James showed how the support of a friend can elevate the work that is being accomplished. When we worked together, he was the perfect partner in achieving what we were trying to achieve. And when I worked for him, he was another leader who supported almost all my hair-brained schemes. I also got to see James show how much more important personal life is than the relative triviality of the time we spend with the business.
Mark Brinkley was another boss who, often against his better judgement, allowed me to head directions that didn't always make since. But Mark also showed me that it was okay to scream and yell at each other, as long as it was done with respect. Okay, maybe not screaming and yelling, but we had some of the most heated discussions I've had with anyone. Mark was very up front when he did not agree with someone. But he showed us all how to do it in a way that did not disrespect anyone.
And saving the most impactful for last…
Paulette Keller has been an employee, a co-worker, and a friend. It is impossible to list everything I learned from her. But the most important aspect was that she was a traveler with me as we both learned what internal audit was and what it could be. Our CAE called us "creative, but dangerous". We took it as a compliment. But I know I never would have been as creative or as dangerous without her support, her leadership, and her bravery. A lot of the things that happened at Farmers insurance – some of them groundbreaking for the department, some of them groundbreaking for the profession – would have never come to pass without her. And much of what I've been able to create would, likewise, never have happened. To be honest, you probably wouldn't be reading this if it weren't for Paulette.
Well, there they are. Just a few of the individuals you can blame for what you see before you. Rereading these I realize they only scrape the surface of what these people mean and how they have impacted my personal and professional career. But there is only so much space. (You should see what wound up on the cutting room floor. As always, let's meet at the bar afterwards and I'll spill the rest of the beans.)
I want you to know these people. And I want you to know the impact they've had. But I also hope that each of these vignettes have provided something you can take back – an insight about work and leadership that you can use to become a little better.
But most importantly, take a moment to think of those who have made you better at what you do. And take the time to reach out and thank them. And then, let's all raise our drink of choice and toast this year, toast the next, and toast those who have made us what we are.