Going Back to My Roots of Authenticity
A couple months ago, at the last show of the season, a parking colleague found me at our booth and asked me with a very serious tone how I was doing. Knowing me, I probably answered with my patented “never better” response. They proceeded to tell me they thought my columns in Parking Today had become a little morose and they were worried about me.
I’ve always believed in interacting with people with deep authenticity and this column has given me an opportunity to write about things that sometimes aren’t super happy. In fact, if my colleague was hoping to find a “non-morose” column this month, they’re going to be left wanting.
If I’m being honest, this person’s comments were an inspiration to me because they signaled that I didn’t hide or sugarcoat one of the most difficult periods of my life that included the death of my father, a global pandemic that took at least one person very close to me way too soon, and now, sadly, includes the death of my mother last Saturday.
My mother’s death was the exact opposite of my father. My father had dementia and we could see and hear the relentless decline coming like a freight train a mile away. My mom went from diagnosis to death in less than three weeks. The truth is hers was also a steady decline, due to the silent but relentless encroachment of cancer on many of her vital organs, but her vigor and her mind were sharp right up until the very end. We never saw it coming.
Circling back, my colleague’s concern was inspiring for two other reasons. I was thrilled to hear he was reading my columns and that my authentic feelings were coming through in my writing. I’ve been told by others they appreciate how much I put myself out there. Excellent! Mission accomplished!
As a leader, it is important to me that people see the real Brian Wolff. They need to see that I am as human as they are, and that I experience ups and downs, and sometimes don’t quite know what to do with my emotions. When I do that, it gives them something to rally around that’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
Leadership is about helping people see possibilities of success and a path forward, even when the way is difficult or unclear. When I think back to some of our best leaders, it’s obvious these leaders inspired us because they told us the truth. They didn’t always tell us the “whole truth,” but sometimes they did. It really depended on the circumstances and if the whole truth was necessary to provide the right context for the challenging steps that would need to be taken.
When I think of important times or speeches that did just that, I think of Winston Churchill’s “never give in” speech. It’s not a very long speech, but it’s powerful in its ability to tell the truth and inspire those who heard or read it to keep going.
Here’s the last paragraph of the speech: “Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days — the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.” Wow!
Churchill’s speech does something else that I think is critical for leaders to accomplish. When he speaks of sterner days, he’s very clearly signaling that things will get worse before they get better. He’s telling the truth!
The other more important thing that his speech does is give the readers and listeners a very real sense they are an important part of history. The truth may paint a grim picture, but with every step we take, we make history.
And finally, the speech gives hope. I couldn’t include the entire speech here, but earlier in the transcript, Churchill tells how months earlier their circumstances seemed more dire until allies came to their aid and completely changed their fortunes.
As leaders, we know false hope is no way to inspire our people. In fact, telling the truth, as Churchill did, is just the opposite. He didn’t provide false hope, he provided a stark picture of reality and then reminded them a turning point can come at any time and that we all have an opportunity to play a part in the history of that positive change.
Which brings me all the way back to the reason I started writing this column in the first place. I was inspired to write each month about the things that authentically moved me and moved our industry. If that authenticity took on a maudlin tone every once in a while, I would hope the reader could appreciate that I lead like I write – straight from my heart with that heart mostly on my sleeve.
In a way, it’s like telling the truth. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said, you can simply tell the story again.
When I go back and read my columns from these last three years, I won’t have to wonder how stiff my upper lip was or how I persevered in the face of some of life’s most difficult circumstances. I can read the pain and see the hope because that’s what authentic leaders do.
It’s 4 am, barely 48 hours after my mom’s last breath, as I write this, before I write a poignant, funny, and hopefully inspirational eulogy.
My goal is to use the same philosophy with that writing as this one, to deliver a message celebrating her life, authentically, by sharing the cold hard truth of the day with loved ones and friends and illuminating how important they were to my mom while she was alive. It ain’t Churchill, but it’s gonna be real, because that’s all me.