Lessons Learned From My Father
I’ve always believed that the American dream is to own your own business or, in most cases, to be promoted to the highest rank of management within a company. While this was my dream, I was quick to find out that this was much more than a promotion, and there are many unforeseen obstacles and challenges I would soon face as a new leader, especially at my age and with how quickly it happened.
In April of 2019, my father and owner of Allsouth Sprinkler Company, John J. McCullough, unexpectedly passed, leaving my two younger siblings and me to inherit our family business. While grieving the loss of our role model and fearless leader, we slowly adjusted into our new positions. Luckily for us, my father—and his father before him— built a great team who supported us mentally and professionally and helped pick up the pieces and assist in a seamless transition.
The new role didn’t feel anything like I had imagined, and although the transition was seamless for the company, it wasn’t for me. It was overwhelming and confusing without having my father to lean on. I imagine it is similar to becoming a new parent. It’s a whole new outlook and world that I couldn’t imagine, nor was I confident I was even ready for. The responsibilities were more than I ever imagined. Being involved in decisions that affect some of the best humans I know is stressful. Managing day-to-day operations of my “normal” job and compounding executive responsibilities on top of that, I lost a lot of sleep. I am still transitioning into it after a year. I don’t believe it is something that happens instantaneously.
Transitioning the next generation into a leadership role should be a process with several years of training, learning, and self-development. While I am thankful for the several years of working with my father, we did not have the time we needed. I am thankful to have been blessed with observing my father for the time I could and believe I have taken the best parts of his leadership skills and incorporated them into mine. Here are some of the lessons I learned from him.
1. Gain respect. One of the challenges I was not prepared for was transitioning from a co-worker and, in most cases, a friend of my colleagues to becoming one of their leaders. At Allsouth, we are not fans of titles nor superiority; we are a team. But, as in any business, there is a chain of command, and I was now taking on a leadership role and had to adjust to the changes and position ahead of me. Gaining respect from people who have watched you grow up, are older than you, more experienced than you, or have been employed at the company longer than you, has been a challenge in some cases. I believe each has faith in me, but it would be naive to think they hadn’t questioned the company’s future. So, instead of wielding authority, I have chosen to demonstrate my intentions to support them and help them grow.
2. Build relationships. Over the past year, I have been growing into my professional identity and discovering my leadership style. One of the most important parts of leadership is creating a team by building relationships and providing them with the resources and support that they need that will allow each person to achieve their full potential. Building these strong relationships of mutual respect and trust while encouraging growth through education and training is what I trust for our future, and it may have been the best piece of my father’s leadership style I inherited.
3. Learn by doing. I’m thankful I had such a powerful, influential mentor who has shaped me into the person I am and the leader I am becoming. Learning to lead is a process of learning by doing. I know I will make mistakes. I know I will experience many more challenges as and I have no doubt that I will spend the rest of my life learning and improving myself.
4. Ask for help. I wish I could offer more advice and be more helpful to those who will inevitably join me in this experience, but I can’t. It will be different for everyone, and I am still learning myself. That is why we must lean on the leaders before us. Ask for help. Ask why. If you don’t have someone you feel like you can achieve this with, reach out to AFSA and join its mentorship program. It can be intimidating but ask for help. Nothing compares to experience. I encourage our industry leaders to reach out to your next generation of leaders and open the lines of communication. Imagine how much more effective they would be if they were more informed, and the transition was more comfortable. Contributing to their success is the best investment for the future of your company.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mindy McCullough Buckley is the CFO for Allsouth Sprinkler Company in Buford, Georgia. She is a member of GFSA and AFSA National’s NextGen Initiative, a 40-and-under professional group. To find out more details and get involved, visit firesprinkler.org/nextgen.