Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Paul Blefari

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels found me first in Capitola, celebrating the three-day weekend at my beach house. On Tuesday, I participated in the weekly Berkshire Hathaway Energy call and spent Wednesday (and the rest of the week) planning for next week’s CEO leadership meeting and other upcoming presentations.

Often in these posts, I’ll highlight leadership lessons from something I’ve read or listened to, but today is a very special Thoughts on Leadership because it’s all about lessons learned from my dad, Paul Blefari.

Today, July 8, my dad turns 96 years young, and for my entire life, he has been a constant source of inspiration on my leadership journey.

Whenever I’m asked the question, “Who had the biggest impact on you growing up?” I always say my mom and dad. To this day, I make time in my schedule each week for my parents. On Sunday, we get in my car and drive for three hours (we call it the “three hour tour.”). We never have a plan; we just drive. Sometimes we cruise to the San Jose foothills or drive through Los Altos Hills or to my house in Capitola. Sometimes we go to San Francisco or Morgan Hill to have coffee with my friend Ben Bruno. Ben brings out coffee and biscotti and we eat right there in the car. My parents are in a hurry for most of the week, and the only place they really hurry to is the doctor’s office. Sunday is our time to have no agenda except to drive.

Of course, we’ll take our “three hour tour” this Sunday after my dad’s birthday, but today, let’s take a drive through my dad’s life story.

Paul Blefari fought in WWII, stormed the turbulent beaches of Normandy, was in Patton’s Third Army and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge when two 88s landed right in front of him. Yes, he’s my hero but he’s also an American hero. Here’s what I learned from his courage, kindness and altruism:

I learned to do your best in every situation. Doing your best isn’t only a way to secure great results; it’s also how you can ensure a brighter future. When you do your best, you plant the seeds that will grow weeks, months and even years later from the soil of your effort and determination.

I learned to be impeccable with your word. The sentiment is also echoed in “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, but it’s something my dad believes in. When you speak, speak with integrity, honesty and truth. You say what you mean and mean what you say. You speak with abundant positivity and avoid negative terms, thoughts or descriptions. Positive speech sends good energy into the world. Words are a tool for spreading optimism, truth and love.

I learned not to worry about the opinions of others. My dad isn’t defined by what other people think; he’s defined by his own belief in his abilities. He taught me that the opinions of others can’t shape who you are, only you can do that. He taught me that the opinions of others can’t change who you are, only you can change that. He taught me that the opinions of others can’t affect what you’ll do or the person you’ll become, only you decide your actions and only you choose your destiny. Your destiny is ultimately a compilation of the small actions you take toward success.

I learned to always be the person who helps others.  Growing up, my dad was always the guy helping people in need. He was involved with charity fundraisers at church and was the organizer several times each year for spaghetti dinners. My dad understands the value of giving back, not only because it makes you a more loving person, but also because it brings gratitude to your daily life and support to the lives of others.

I learned to lead by example. Just like a star quarterback can’t win the big game from the sidelines, a leader can’t lead unless they take the necessary action to help the entire team achieve its collective goals. When you lead by example, others follow and they’re always better for it.

I learned to do the right thing. Peter Drucker said management is doing things right, but leadership is doing the right things. And it’s a statement my dad fully embraces. When you lead, you lead with honesty and integrity. It’s the best plan of action and will bring about the most sustainable, long-term success.

I learned to be courageous. My dad loves this saying: “Always remember the tallest oak tree in the forest was just a little nut that held its ground.” Stand tall. Fight for what you believe in. Have courage. Be brave. Be the tiny nut that holds steady until it grows into a mighty oak that’s unshakably strong.

I learned to be positive. No matter how my dad feels, if you call my dad and ask how he is, he’ll say, “I’m great.” (As I write this, I can almost hear my mom in the background saying, “No you aren’t, you have a cold!”) Whenever I hear him positively respond to my question about how he’s doing, I feel encouraged, energized and even empowered to tackle anything that comes my way. Positivity is like that – it’s infectious. When you’re around positive people, good things happen.

I learned to love taking out the garbage. To this day, I still love taking out the garbage because it was something my dad and I would do together every week when I was a kid. I also think my passion for gardening started with my dad because the two of us would mow the lawn together. I would stand in front of him and he would stand behind me with his hands on the handlebars of the push mower. We’d mow the lawn together until it was completely fresh. It’s not what you do but who you do it with that makes the biggest impression on your life.

So, what’s the message? When we look at our mentors, whether it’s our father, mother or business associate, they ultimately all have a special influence on transforming us into the person we are today, and the person we’ll be tomorrow. My dad influenced my formative years and continues to influence my leadership growth. Because of my dad, I’m motivated to become the best leader I can be, just like he was – and still is at 96 years of age.

Happy birthday, Pappy. Thank you for all you’ve done to inspire me. This one is for you.

One response to Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Paul Blefari

  1. Gino,

    I appreciate this post more than anything I have read in quite some time. Thank you for sharing this about your wonderful father who will likely blush at being called a “leader.” It’s what he knows. God bless him, the strength of his generation and his love of life.


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