On the Tragic Death of a Colleague

Last week, the world lost a great man and incredible colleague. According to one news report, it seems a large dump truck collided head on with Jeff’s car. The momentum carried both vehicles off the road, where a fire broke out. A courageous bystander rescued the truck driver but was unable to save Jeff. A tragic loss of a great man.

Candle at a FuneralJeff managed a large portion of a project I lead last year. I was not fortunate enough to know him beyond work, but the little I knew, I admired. We once shared a brief chat on his interests in servant leadership and I knew we were kindred spirits. I made a note to schedule time to follow up later. Unfortunately, I never made that time.

I could not have predicted this tragedy. Still, I recall him stopping by my office last week and how disappointed I was not to be able to spend more time with him then. A regret now amplified 100 times. While we cannot predict tragedies, we know they could happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Therefore, I come from this experience with some new angles on old leadership questions.

New Perspectives on Old Leadership Questions

Below are important questions for any good leader to ask. Yet, in the light of recent experiences, I have a new perspective on these questions:

1. Are Your Employees Appreciated? We all know it is important, for performance, to ensure employees feel appreciated. Yet, have we considered other reasons it is important they know you appreciate them? Certainly, as one’s life flashes before their eyes few will worry about work. For those left behind though, we will always wonder, “did they know how much I appreciated their contributions?”

2. Do You Promote Work-Life Alignment? Many suggest we must have a good work-life balance. I recommend work-life alignment. Whatever your perspective, do you value employee’s personal life and time commitments? If you lose an employee, it will be too late to fix this issue for that person’s family.

3. Do You Really Know Your Team Members? Employees don’t only want their work to be appreciated, they want to be appreciated as individuals. Jeff had a shared interest in servant leadership – that little I knew – what more did we share? What more could I have learned from him? What more can you learn from the people you work with?

I regret not practicing these questions better myself and challenge myself to do better in the future. What about you? Remember, tragedy can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere – even one of your colleagues.

Thank you for all you did Jeff, we will miss you.

Question: If you suffered an abrupt loss of a coworker, how did it change your perspectives?


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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