December, with the close of another year, is a time of reflection: What have I accomplished? What have I failed to get done? What do I want to finish in the coming year? In a reflective mood, thoughts often zero in on relationships that need repair or developed in order to move forward with creative energy, as unhealthy relationships drain power and impinge on productivity. Think of the energy surge you’d experience knowing you finished the year with healthy, intact relationships at home and at work, producing internal peace and a synergy that affected everyone and everything around you.
Naomi Rhode, one of twelve women leaders interviewed for my book, The Unstoppables, talked about finishing well. She said, “I’d like my legacy to be meaningful conversations and things that are done well, done excellently, with eloquence and with class. I believe we should think about finishing well. Some questions might be: “How do you finish well, not just in life, but how do you finish well in your relationship with your mother-in-law? With your children? In every aspect of your life? How do you finish well so that when you get to the final stages of life, you will indeed finish well?”
As a leadership speaker and executive coach, much of my focus is on relationships, the bedrock of leadership. And, perhaps like you, I’ve learned the most about how to have healthy relationships through painful personal experience. For me, my relationship with my father was the best teacher.
Growing up with my father was not always easy. He was often demanding—expecting every job to be completed and to be done right. Whether it was drying the dishes, scrubbing the floor, raking the leaves, shoveling the snow from the drive in the winter, writing a term paper, or something as simple as addressing an envelope, nothing less than completion and excellence was expected. When I was a teenager, his personality rankled me, and more than once my interactions with him left me feeling frustrated and miserable. Little did I realize how his insistence on finishing well would lead to no regrets when my father died.
After speaking for the Michigan Assisted Living Association on the topic of creating great relationships, a woman from the audience came up, put her arms around me, and with tears in her eyes whispered, “You have no idea what your words meant to me today. I am forty-seven years old and have been battling with my mother for years, and today, for the first time, I realized that she will never change. It’s up to me if I am to have the relationship I want with her.” She realized her part in finishing well with her mother.
A couple of weeks later, a young man who works on a physicians’ team emailed me to say that he’d read my book, You CAN Teach a Pig to Sing – Create Great Relationships…with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere, and it brought tears to his eyes as he realized the part he’d played in contributing to a miserable relationship with his boss. He said that one simple idea allowed him to see his boss in a whole new light, relieving a mountain of stress he’d been carrying around. He now understood his role in finishing well with his boss.
I don’t know about you, but today I like to finish well at anything I do, whether it be finishing a speech or a consulting job or work with a coaching client or participation in a 5K walk (no, I’m not a runner). Finishing well with my father meant that I needed to change. It meant allowing my father to be who he was without expecting him to be different. It meant loving my father and honoring him by focusing, not on the things that irritated, but on all the incredible gifts he poured into my life (albeit, I didn’t know it at the time)–things like standards of excellence, honesty, generosity, loyalty, commitment, resilience, courage, and faith–the list goes on. These were all things my siblings and I learned simply by having the good fortune to be raised by loving parents who cared about “finishing well,” whatever the job. And I was determined that I wanted to finish well when it came to my relationship with my father.
I could share a number of examples to illustrate how our often contentious relationship changed over the last 10 years of his life due to changes that I made, but my father’s parting words to my son Joey the day before my father died says it best. Joey went into my father’s bedroom to say goodbye, and emerged with tears streaming down his face. “Mom, Grandpa said, ‘Joey, your mom is an angel; she’s always been here for your grandma and me. She’s the strong one in the family and you need to know that about her. Take good care with your mother; she deserves nothing less.’”
I don’t believe that my father could have said that 10 years earlier. Thank God he lived to be old enough for me to mature enough to make it possible for me to say at the end of his life, “Yup, my dad and I, we finished well.”
I’ve read that only about 30% of leaders finish well. As a leader in your organization—home, business, place of worship, or community—I am convinced you want to be a part of that 30%, whether it be finishing well in your career, a job, a project, or a relationship. To be an enduring positive influence (something most leaders hope to achieve) requires a commitment to finish and to finish well.
Leader: Be your own best coach. Consider your answers to these questions:
1) In each area of your life, are you on track to finish well? If not, what areas need a renewed commitment from you?
2) What do you need to change in order for you to finish well?
3) Who do you need to be and what specific actions do you need to take to finish well with each significant person in your life? Spouse? Child? Co-worker? Boss?
4) When will you begin to bring about the change?
Faisal Khosa wrote, “It does not matter how we start, it matters little the colossal mistakes we commit along the way. The only thing we will be judged by is how we finish.”
How do you intend to finish?
I welcome your comments.