That (leadership) stuff my daddy said

My dad was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force (USAF). He flew jets in Vietnam and served his country for over 20 years. Missing the cockpit after retiring from the USAF, he flew for American Airlines for over 10 years before retiring a second time in 2000.

We lived the life of a military family – moving often, listening to stories of bravado and silliness told by my dad and his pilot buddies, being a part of a world where many of the wives stayed home because it was too hard to find a career moving every few years, and being subjected to very strict rules set by an Air Force officer. An example – one of his edicts dictated how we were to answer the phone, “Lt. Colonel Bell’s residence, Mollie speaking.”

One day I will write a book sharing numerous (and sometimes colorful) phrases my dad used, which I hated growing up but have come to appreciate. Many now guide my leadership philosophies and approach. Until I write that book, I wanted to share a few with you.

  1. “Stop pole vaulting over pissants”

What an image using a pole vault to leap over an ant (and, yes, ants that when making their nests create a smell of urine)! The word pissant is also, according to Wiki, “used as a pejorative noun or adjective indicating insignificance.” When collaborating to reach a goal or make a key decision, this point about sizing the effort going into the decision-making against the actual importance of the decision is a must. Why agonize or create drama over a relatively insignificant decision or task? Understand ramifications and don’t go overboard with analysis when the thing to be decided or done does not warrant it.

  1. “Even if you stay up and hoot with the owls, you gotta get up and soar with the eagles”

As you may imagine, this lesson was a tough one for me when I was in high school. Even if I had a friend sleep over, my dad had no issue barreling into my room early on a Saturday morning and, in a sing song manner, shout out this phrase. Today, I recognize this lesson taught me a work ethic I wouldn’t trade for the world – akin to a work hard, play hard mindset. Whether the staying up with the owls was work-imposed or self-imposed fun, the point was, even when it’s hard, get up and make the best of your day, a day full of potential to soar.

  1. “Do something, even if it’s wrong”

My dad was a man of action and did not believe much in “down time.” This manifested in his saying to me, if he thought I was being lazy, “Go and do something, even if it’s wrong.” Yes, I used this against him when my doing something became mischief making, and it often was. As a leader, this phrase has come to embody something important about taking action, accepting failure or imperfection in that action, learning, and moving forward. After all, better to take action and make a mistake than to perseverate on an issue that never gets solved.

  1. “Everything before the ‘but’ is bullshit”

This statement was actually my mom’s first yet was one I heard often from my dad. I have found these wise words to be cleverly impactful, especially when it comes to coaching others. The transitive “but” communicates a shift and when used in a coaching/feedback discussion can be incredibly damaging to the listener. “You did a good job presenting the data about the system implementation but…” You have just caused the listener’s brain to shift away from hearing and processing any positive points you were trying to make and preparing their brain for the letdown. What I have learned, and strive to live, is to simply put a period on my thought, or find a way to use “and” instead. “You did a good job presenting the data about the system implementation and there may be some lessons learned for the next time based on the questions asked. What do you think?”

In the end, these four pearls of wisdom from my dad (who I do still call daddy) are centered around how, as leaders, we take action and the manner by which we thoughtfully communicate – key lessons even if only leading ourselves.

Mollie Bell

Mollie Bell

Mollie Bell joined Ent Credit Union in December 2018 as Chief Development Officer. Mollie has worked on behalf of credit unions since 2007, having worked for CUNA Mutual Group, Filene ... Web: Details