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Do You Care? Leadership Lessons from Brother Bernadine, Archie DeMarco, & My Dad

“A Mindful Leadership Story by Dale Moss”

“People don’t care how much you know — until they know how much you care.”
– John C. Maxwell

There are many things that make up a great leader but, to me, there is a common strand that binds great leaders together. It’s caring. I have seen pyramids, trees, and all sorts of diagrams that overcomplicate what good leadership looks like. Of course, character, commitment, confidence, and competence are all essential qualities — but without caring — they are sterile.

Throughout my career, I have always tried to embody this critical element of leadership. The times I have demonstrated a sense of empathy and caring for the teams I have had the privilege to lead were the moments I felt most successful.

I have chosen to reflect on the people in my life who — by action — showed me what caring and leadership were really about and in the most profound way, set the stage for my leadership style.

Brother Bernadine

I grew up on Long Island and attended St. Anthony’s, a Franciscan high school. The school was located in Smithtown with an enrollment of only 300 students. Brother Bernadine, our Principal, personally greeted every single student by name…- each and every day – as they got off the bus! Regardless of the weather, he stood outside in his cape, rain or shine, hot or cold, and greeted us every day. He knew each student’s name and how they were doing. Brother Bernadine was an impressive man who cared about his students, and we knew it.

One particular memory stands out in my mind…one day, Brother Bernadine pulled me aside and mentioned that my Mom had not sent in my monthly tuition. He casually told me, “Tell your mom there is no need to worry, just send it in next month.”

What I learned about leadership from Brother Bernadine was that he was loved and respected not only for being the Principal, but also for being a caring man. He led from the front, and as a result, his students would have gone through a brick wall for him. We were a family with a culture unlike any school my other friends attended. It was simple – Brother Bernadine cared; he showed it; and we all knew it … a great formula.

Coach Archie DeMarco

Archie DeMarco was the Athletic Director and Varsity Baseball Coach at St. Anthony’s. He was a retired naval officer and had also played for one of the Cincinnati farm teams before joining the Navy. Coach DeMarco was a great guy, clearly in charge, tough when he needed to be and (almost) always with a smile on his face.

I loved baseball with all of my heart and played junior varsity as a freshman. So, when the Spring of my Sophomore year arrived, I was excited to try out for the varsity team. While St. Anthony’s was a small school, we still had a competitive baseball team. And, every few days, during tryouts, a list was posted in the locker room with the guys who were still on the team. As I made it through three or four cuts, I remained hopeful.

Coach DeMarco knew both baseball and young men. One afternoon, he came to my classroom and asked if he could have a few words with me. As we walked, he put his arm around me and said, “Kid you need playing time and, while you could make the team, I think it’s best if you stay with the junior varsity team and get playing time. There are juniors and seniors who will probably play ahead of you. I’m going to need you in the next two years, but you need more playing experience.”

This was potentially a moment of huge disappointment for me, but you know what? I wasn’t terribly crushed because Coach DeMarco cared enough to come to me, explain the situation, and ask for my support. He certainly didn’t have to do that, but he clearly cared, and I am forever grateful. He took the sting and embarrassment out of the situation and encouraged me to keep working. As it turned out, he really was a genius because his decision to keep me on the junior varsity team worked out for the best. In fact, Coach DeMarco helped secure me a baseball scholarship to Fordham University and I could go and on and how that experience impacted my life…

My Dad

My Dad is the toughest, softhearted guy I have ever known. And it took me many years to see, appreciate, and understand this wonderful combination of seemingly opposites styles. He grew up during the Depression in a difficult family environment and joined the Navy at sixteen years of age during World War II. When I was growing up, Dad scared the heck out of me because he looked tough and took discipline seriously. In fact, everyone thought Dad worked for the FBI. But, underneath, he was a real softy.

Toward the end of my senior year in college, I was struggling to find a job. Having gone to several interviews without any success, I felt sorry for myself and started moping around the house. This went on for several weeks, and Dad had had enough. I was sitting in our living room reading when Dad walked in, a big book under his arm. He sat next to me and said,“Son, I know you are having a tough time and your Mom and I feel for you. We are prepared to help out in any way we can. But, if you’re looking for sympathy, it’s under ‘S’.” He dropped a big dictionary on the coffee table and left the room. In one instance, he showed me two contrasting styles – deep caring and self-reliance.

Closing

“People don’t mind being challenged to do better if they know the request is coming from a caring heart.” — Ken Blanchard

Throughout the years, I have discovered that we truly learn life’s important lessons in situations like the ones I just shared. I have been blessed to have people in my life who have demonstrated caring in different situations, and it is their actions that have enabled me to achieve whatever successes I have enjoyed and to better lead. I look back in deep appreciation to these loving, kind, and confident people and to many others who took the time to care.

Dale Moss has held several leadership positions in the airline industry, including CEO, OpenSkies; COO, Jet Airways India Ltd; Chairman, British Airways Holidays; and Director of Sales Worldwide for British Airways, where he led 12,000 employees and was known for building great teams and delivering extraordinary results. He is currently President of Dale Moss Consulting Ltd.

On a personal note, Dale has been married to Kathi Moss for 41 years, has five grown children, and ten beautiful grandchildren. Dale recently shared, “there is no question – my life’s most important work – is my family. I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams and remain forever grateful.”

I met Dale Moss when I worked under his leadership at British Airways…He was inspirational, a terrific story teller, grateful, and always brought out the best in us. Dale always cared and, because he cared, we were motivated to reach our potential and do what was best for the organization. When I left British Airways, Dale told me I would always be welcomed back, and he continues to mentor and support me in my career.

A Lesson from McDonalds: Life is an Occasion, Rise to It!

“A Mindful Leadership Story by Sang Lee”

Introducing My Dear Grandmother

I would like to share a personal story of the woman who raised and shaped me to be the person I am today. For most of my life, I thought she was my grandmother but I later learned she was a close friend of my maternal birth grandmother’s. So, for the purpose of this essay, when I mention my “grandmother,” I will be referring to the woman who raised me.

In 1971 when I was born, my mother had health issues and was not able to care for me. Consequently, I spent most of my childhood with my grandmother. She was my protector, defending me against my parents and two older siblings regardless of how irrational my behavior was. To this day, I have fond memories of Grandmother sneaking me food when I refused to eat with the rest of the family.

My grandmother loved me unconditionally but this is not the main point of the story. What was remarkable about her was that she was physically disabled. Unfortunately, when she was a child, she fell off a wagon and damaged her spine. As a result, she became a 4’ woman with a severely curved spine, making her look like a hunchback. While her appearance did not bother her at home, it did in public and she rarely ventured outside.

When I was nine years old, my father was offered (and accepted) a job with the Korean Embassy in Washington, DC. Our entire family obtained visas to move with him except for Grandmother because she was not a “blood” relative. Upon hearing this, I screamed, cried and carried on for days, driving my parents crazy until they somehow figured out a way to secure Grandmother a visa.

So even in the US, Grandmother continued to care for my sister, brother, and me, cooking our meals and taking care of the house. She was the “glue” that kept our family going, the real COO, while Mother was more of a figure head.

Life Lesson in a Single Impressionable Event: The Story of McDonalds

After living in the US for about three years, my father was promoted to a new position located in South Korea. The timing was not ideal because my older brother was about to leave for college. And, because of this, my parents made the tough decision that they would move to South Korea and leave us with my grandmother and guardians. Our guardians were mostly there in case of emergency, and, in reality, it was my tiny grandmother, who did not speak a word of English, who took care of my brother, sister and me, on her own, in a foreign country.

There is one event that stands out during this time that has had a huge impact on my personal and professional development. One day, my sister and Grandmother went shopping. I was a huge fan of McDonald’s chicken nuggets and asked my sister if she would stop by McDonald’s to get me some. She replied that she was busy and McDonald’s was too far out of the way to pick up “junk food” for her little brother.

A couple of hours went by and my sister returned home, alone. When I asked her where Grandmother was, she answered that Grandmother had insisted on going to McDonald’s to get my food. I became furious at my sister for leaving Grandmother, a woman who hated being out in public and couldn’t speak a word of English, to venture out on her own. My sister and I argued for what felt like an eternity until we became concerned that Grandmother might be lost. That’s when the front door opened and Grandmother walked in, holding a bag from McDonald’s containing my chicken nuggets and favorite BBQ sauce! Relieved to see her, I shed tears of joy and gave her a huge hug.

Impact on My Life

To this day, my sister and I talk about the McDonald’s story whenever we discuss the impact Grandmother had in shaping the person I am today. I always envision what it must have been like for the McDonald’s employees to see this little hunchbacked Asian grandmother desperately attempting to get food for me, her grandchild. My grandmother, who for an instant, probably didn’t care about the obvious stares she must have received due to her appearance and inability to speak English.  She was determined to fulfill her mission of making me happy. The amazing thing about the McDonald’s event was that when Grandmother returned home, she acted as if nothing special had happened.

I often think of my grandmother, a remarkable woman, who even though she experienced doubt and fear, was still strong, humble, and compassionate enough to rise to meet any situation head-on and make the most of it. She was a person filled with love and compassion, who demonstrated, through repeated actions, the importance of humility and quiet confidence. These lessons have always stayed with me. And, as a result, I try to guide and remind my family and colleagues that it is okay to have flaws, weaknesses and fear but, despite these, we must rise to meet the occasion.

My beloved grandmother is no longer physically with me but not one day goes by without me thinking about her and appreciating her unconditional love for me. And, most importantly, I try to live my life, both personally and professionally, reflecting on the lessons learned from my dear grandmother who showed me the true way to lead people is through love, compassion, humility and quiet confidence.

Sang Lee is a managing partner at Aite Group, a research and advisory firm to the top 200 financial institutions, leading technology vendors and professional services firms. I met Sang when my husband, Brad, worked with him at Aite. I am always inspired by Sang’s humble, kind and authentic leadership style.

On a personal note, Sang is happily married with three children and describes himself as “the worse half of a beautiful relationship.”

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