A Story of Human, Humbling, H-Amazing Everyday Leadership

Longtime readers of Reading for Leading know that I tell (perhaps way too many) stories from my own experiences leading. Specifically, leading in the place that matters most to me — leading my children. I take consolation in the fact that I try to be transparent, especially about my missed opportunities and humbling shortfalls. But this one is really uncomfortable, because it’s a bit of a triumph and not my usual “do as I say, not what I did” type of story.

Jennifer’s been planning a surprise 60th wedding anniversary for her parents.  A few weeks ago, our daughter Kate was upset when she found out that the planned surprise would be on her “birthday weekend.” She told us she had already planned an afternoon brunch for Sunday the 6th and couldn’t we move the party for Jen’s parents until the 13th.  We told her that we had lined up a restaurant and invitations were already out to Jen’s parents’ friends.  Kate, known for her strong will, continued agitating for a postponement.  My inner voice of compassion, whispered, “Oh, I’m so sorry we’re messing up her plans.” And another inner, judgmental voice, griped, “does she not appreciate how rare a 60th anniversary is and what it would take to reverse it? Man, she’s got huevos.

I was grateful and relieved as we slowly got to win-win thinking and figured out how we could manage both.  Kate would move her brunch up earlier on Sunday and we would do the surprise for Jen’s parents a little later that evening.   It would be a full but fun weekend!

On Saturday Jen and I spent the afternoon with another couple, touring Oakland art galleries. Very cool. We got home.  We walked down the stairs on our hill to our front entrance, where upon opening the door, 60 people crammed into our living room, screamed “surprise.” We were surprised, but actually way more confused than surprised. Why were friends from Detroit, DC, Chicago, Richmond, LA raising champagne glasses in our living room???  Looking out beyond the crowd through the french doors to the white canopy on our deck Jen said she actually thought for a second, “this is heaven” (and had a panicked instant of wondering if she had died).  It only began to make sense to me when I saw the sign, “THANK YOU  for 25 years of love and support.”

Kates 25th birthday

For HER 25th birthday, Kate had invited Jennifer’s and my friends and family. We stood dazed and dream-like, as she, Cece, Jack and others she invited spoke humbling and touching words about our love for them, each other, and the amazing worlds we’ve been allowed to work in. And, by the way, that brunch? That was also what she planned for us, so that we would have a little more time with friends who’d come cross country to see us!

Maybe you are asking what I ask myself:  Why am I sending such a personal, self-serving piece to 10,000 people?

Because I just LOVE this young woman’s everyday leadership.  Her crazy selfless leadership, in which she spent weeks leading up to her milestone birthday by planning a celebration for someone else, pointing the attention away from her.  Her generosity is inspiring. Her love is so profoundly encouraging. And her initiative, her extreme innovation — shifting the entire picture from receiving to giving – just blows my mind.  

So, draw your own lessons from our everyday leader, who has overthrown our authority in the most creative, path-bending, uplifting and loving way I can imagine.

Jordan was amazing, and Spike Lee coined the phrase be like Mike.”  I say “Be like Kate,” and

Lead with your best self!

P.S. We also pulled off the surprise for Jennifer’s parents — 60 amazing years married.  If it’s a “sandwich generation,” our sandwich is a Reuben or a glorious Club Sandwich!

  • Dan, What a wonderful surprise and a wonderful family. It was a blessing just to read! Thanks for sharing.

  • What wonderful children. We are blessed to have great kids. Hope you and Jennifer are well. Also Happy Birthday to Kate

  • Obviously, the hard work and sacrifice your family made over the years was worth it! This is the best Blog that I have read in a while because it is so personal and touching. Leaders must lead from the inside out and I get this from Kate to you and Jen. I am very happy for you and your family.

  • Kate has proven, once again, that when our children reach 25 years of age, their world no longer continues to resolve around them and they become responsible and caring adults.

  • Wow! You’ve got much to be proud of.
    And the leadership message could be… “Things aren’t always as they seem.”

  • That is so Kate!
    How could you really be surprised? A young woman who quoted her mother in her High School Graduation speech. It seems like yesterday when I heard Kate say, “Your life is an open book and every day you fill in the pages.” It looks like excellence just creates more excellence. GREAT JOB KATE~ Kristine’s AJ

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