The Best Leadership Advice I Ever Got

I’ll cut to the chase. The best leadership advice I ever received came from my father in these twelve simple words:

“If I have to tell you to do something, it’s too late.”


These words have had a tremendous impact on my life as a leader (at work and at home). Impact is better understood in context, so let me lay this out real quick.


My father was a career Marine* who married another Marine. That’s right, I have two USMC parents. SEMPER FI! My childhood was probably different than most other kids, but there’s one more thing, I’m also an only child! Obviously I survived, despite all the love (and discipline) I received without any siblings to rat out.

So, these twelve words of advice come from a career Marine, received by his only son.

*To address the claim of “once a Marine always a Marine”. It’s 100% true, Marines are forever Marines, but I speak of my father in past tense because he passed away in 2005. Not only was he a Marine, he was a helluva Marine, and always a Marine until the very end.

What do these words have to do with leadership?

On the surface, my father used these words to teach me how to conduct myself and to justify his method of discipline; however, the meaning and intent behind them is much deeper. Seemingly hidden in my father’s wise words were (at least) eleven really cool leadership lessons!

Good leaders embrace accountability.

“If I have to tell you to do something, it’s too late” implies that I am accountable for the things I know about, the things I should know about (but may not), and the things I never knew about. This is the mindset of a good leader. Good leaders don’t look for other people to blame, they look at themselves first, seeking ways to improve. Compare this mindset to that of a non-leader. A non-leader (or poor leader) would say something like, “I didn’t know that was my responsibility”. These are words that should NEVER be uttered by a leader.

Let me ask you a simple question about accountability. Is the CEO of an organization ultimately accountable for making sure there’s toilet paper in the bathrooms? The answer is yes. In organizations with good leadership, sh*t always rolls uphill.

Good leaders take initiative.

I couldn’t sit around and wait for my father to tell me what to do. My ass would have been too sore to sit. Literally. Good leaders do not sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do either. Instead, they’re constantly looking for, finding, and doing what needs to be done. Good leaders get sh*t done.

Good leaders always have a purpose.

On the surface, my father’s words seem vague and without purpose. That’s the masterful intent, believe it or not. Knowing that I’m going to held accountable for something my father may or may not ask me to do means that I better figure out what he might ask me to do! I needed to learn how to think critically, ask the right questions, and observe what’s going on around me. My father always had a purpose, I had to find mine and align it with his.

Good leaders keep people informed.

As the leader in our home, my father consistently demonstrated effective communication skills. When he said “If I have to tell you to do something, it’s too late”, that wasn’t the end of the story. If I had missed the mark, he was always clear about how I missed it and why. In every case, he had properly informed me ahead of time. He always gave me the information I needed to achieve what he was expecting. It was my problem if I wasn’t paying attention.

Good leaders empower others.

Building off the previous point, my father communicated things to me in a way that made me feel like I figured it out myself (even though he told me). This masterful approach was empowering. Additionally, I had freedom to decide what I was going to do. If I was paying attention, I had confidence that I was doing what was expected of me. This then became something that I wanted to do versus something that I was told to do. Brilliant! If I was aligned with my father’s purpose, life was GOOD! Later on, I realized that my father’s wisdom was deeply rooted in empowerment.

Good leaders are respectable and respectful.

Not necessarily in that order. When my father spoke these twelve words, I heard them loud and clear (more loud than clear maybe, being a Marine). Truth is, I feared my father. I feared him more out of reverence and admiration than anything else though. He commanded respect because he was respectable and respectful. My father was a GREAT leader who was easy to respect.

Good leaders are situationally aware.

My father’s words, especially these twelve words, demanded that I pay attention. I knew that there would be consequences for failure, so I’d better figure out how to comply! These words taught me to observe better, listen better, and look for meaningful hints that may not be spoken. They taught me the importance of situational awareness in all aspects of leadership.

Good leaders are genuine.

These words came out of my father’s mouth because they originated from his heart. There was no bullsh*t here. If my father were still with us today, I don’t think he’d remember saying these words to me. If he did remember, I think he would be surprised by how impactful they have become in my life. The reason I don’ t think he would remember is because he lived by them. They were just part of who he was.

TRUTH: There are no books to read, no words on Post-It notes attached to your bathroom mirror, no pithy quotes to memorize that will make you a good leader. You must become a good leader through becoming a better version of yourself.

Good leaders recognize that they’re always on stage.

I knew my father was always watching. After all these years, I still can’t figure out how he knew some of the sh*t he knew. Just as I was always watched as a child, I’m always being watched today, as a leader 40-50 years later. Good leaders know they’re always being watched. Everyone who follows you is watching you. You might not notice, but it’s true. They’re watching you for several reasons. Sometimes it’s to see if you’re watching them, sometimes it’s to test you, but often it’s because they respect you and they want to emulate the admirable qualities they see in you.

Good leaders seek their replacement.

In hindsight, my father was always preparing me to be the best version of myself, hoping that I would someday become a better leader than he was. He was propping me up, cheering me on, and preparing me to become everything that he dreamed I could be. If he’s watching me from heaven, I hope he’s proud of what all his hard work produced. I imagine he is and it’s great motivation to keep at it.

Good leaders love.

Good leaders love those they lead. The form of love I’m referring to is “unconditional love” or “agape love”. In psychology, it refers to a state of mind in which one has the goal of increasing the welfare of another, despite the lack of any evidence of benefit for oneself. My father imparted this wisdom to me because he loved me. He sacrificed for me without any expectation of any benefit to himself. Good leaders choose to love, and they commit to loving well.


Who would have thought that there was so much meaning behind these twelve simple words shared by my father so many years ago?

“If I have to tell you to do something, it’s too late.”


These words and the tremendous wisdom behind them have become words I live by. I refer to them often, share them with others, and user them as I continually strive to be a better leader today than I was yesterday. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the bar my father set for me, but I am having a great time trying! One thing is certain, I am forever grateful for the example he set by how he led me, his only son.


DISCLAIMER: Let me just say that I don’t consider myself to be a great leader. I consider myself a leader who’s trying to be better (“great” might be unattainable). Understand that the advice I’m writing about isn’t advice that I’ve come close to mastering in my own life.


I don’t do spam. I don’t eat it and I don’t send it. Not to mention, it’s also illegal!

I’ll write a privacy policy soon (that you won’t read).

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