These photos were not taken with the black-and-white filter on my iPhone.
These are photos of two people who made a cross-Atlantic journey in search of a better life.
They were taken on the Marine Flasher, a converted troop ship bringing refugees and Holocaust survivors to the United States after World War II.
These are also my parents.
My history, their history, began when they met as teenagers at a Nazi concentration camp in Riga, Latvia. They were two middle-class German kids thrust into a period of extreme oppression, suffering, and unspeakable atrocities.
Against that unforgiving backdrop, their story is also one of love, resilience, luck, will, and presence of mind to navigate life in a concentration camp, and then life again as survivors.
My father miraculously escaped from a concentration camp with his own father and became an interpreter for the United States Army, while my mother was liberated by the Soviet Army in the waning days of the war.
They were among a small number of extended family who survived. They somehow found each other back in Germany and were given safe passage to America. Along with many other historical items, including rare film footage of their arrival in New York, we cherish these photographs that highlight the end of one journey, and the beginning of a new one.
Their American story is comparably compelling. It is filled with successes and life experiences grounded in service, exploration, and storytelling. While originally reluctant to do so, they began a cathartic journey to share their survivor stories and experiences at schools, churches, synagogues, and even with strangers and newfound friends around the world thanks to their shared passion for travel.
While unplanned and unspoken, my parents’ purpose became clear: to inform, educate, and ask future generations to learn from their past, to listen to one another, and to look forward with hope and possibility. They believed that context is critical to deepening understanding and stressed the importance of being continuously aware of the interconnected world in which we exist, locally and globally.
Prescient advice. In so many ways.
When I started my coaching and advisory practice two years ago, I named it ListenForward to honor the lives, experiences, and learnings of these two amazing people — no longer with us, and yet still present in so many ways. Their examples shaped me, my family, and, notably, many others who had the privilege to cross their paths.
What Does It Mean to ListenForward as a Leader and Team?
I have been honored and lucky to have built, led, and developed working groups, teams, and organizations across multiple stages of maturity and change in sports, tech, media, and finance. I have had the opportunity to coach, advise, and mentor leaders across the globe. I’ve taught emerging leaders at the graduate level. I have worked for and with great leaders, toxic leaders, and leaders in name only.
After three and half decades of leadership lessons, I observed essential “ListenForward” building blocks that differentiate the most effective executive leaders and teams:
Context: They are consciously aware of the big picture and forces of change that support or hinder progress. They understand the connected stakeholder system in which they operate and influence, including the customers and communities they serve, the organizations they represent, and the people they lead and work with each day.
Co-Ownership: They are values and ethics driven. They build shared purpose, commitment, and trust within and across their relevant stakeholder systems. They welcome and engage diverse points of view, build small and large coalitions, and cultivate a network of “co-owners.”
Cohesion: They build alignment, accountability, and agency. They celebrate and recognize success, and support individuals, teams, and connected stakeholders through challenging times. They are always ready to pitch in and help.
Challenge: They ask themselves or their teams if we can do better or make a greater impact. They are disciplined in ongoing reflection, listening, and continuous improvement. They embrace and apply outside-in and divergent thinking to consider new pathways forward. As a result, they are adaptive, resilient, and decisive.
Communication: They communicate consistently, transparently, authentically, and with candor.
Viewed in totality, this blend of process, behavior, and mindset may seem unattainable. But when viewed through a pragmatic lens, it is very attainable. More often than not, these very characteristics are in play in organizations that spend time leading through the lens of what will form and define a sustainable organization, and then stretching to achieve something far greater. Those organizations are fully committed to design a better future.
ListenForward is grounded in the journey of my parents who navigated obstacles and propelled themselves and others around them toward their own vision of a better future. They looked forward with a commitment to a larger purpose. I proudly look back and look forward, carrying the same mindset for an ever-changing world.
If you are an executive leader or a team seeking to strengthen your performance, deliver sustained results, and create positive impact with and for those you lead, represent, and serve, let’s connect.
There is much good that can be done, and many great stories yet to be told.