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When "In the Red" is a Good Thing

Posted by Stephen Lemire on September 15, 2011 at 12:55 AM

I’m launching this website’s blog by introducing a paradoxical business term. A nonprofit management consultant in favor of being in debt you ask? Never! Instead, allow me to introduce a new definition of the term, one which includes an upper case ‘R’, to mean “in the know” (discriminate, perceptive).

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My father, Robert C. “Red” Lemire, shared many lessons with me, directly and indirectly. I share my father’s lessons and humor on a daily basis with business colleagues and audiences, family and friends, students, and most everyone with whom I interact in the course of a day.

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My Dad could have been a poster child for Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. His guiding principles were driven, like many of his contemporaries, by God, family, and country. His credentials, of which I will provide greater details over time, were impeccable. He was a decorated WWII veteran; doting husband of sixty years; devoted father of six educated children; faithful servant of his community church; and a standout employee of a public utility for more than four decades. (His prowess on the baseball diamond deserves its own entry.)

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However, it was my father’s traits and wisdom, rather than his credentials that have had the greatest impact on my career. In particular, he was a very hard worker – one who never expected more of another than he would do himself. He was very team-oriented. (Playing sports taught him to work with others to reach a common goal). He was extremely humble. (The shadow box of his military medals in my office contains several that were awarded posthumously. This was when Robert Lemire Square was dedicated in our home City, too.) Finally, my father was very organized. He preferred to work from lists so that he could face his tasks and complete them without delay.

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There have been a handful of my father’s rules (Redisms) that I have followed in my two decades as a nonprofit executive director which I will share in greater detail with my clients.

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1) Vision is vital – My Dad was the hardest working, task-oriented man that I ever met. Yet, he would say to me, at times, “I can’t see the big picture.” He was proudest of me when he would tell me that I had vision – “You know how you want something to turn out and then you do it.” Well, Dad, that comment helped me name this company.

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2) Everything is relative – My father seemed unflappable. He would say that no matter what situation or crisis you are in, you have always been in worse and come through it. After his experiences in the war, especially spending a couple days in a foxhole with a gangrenous leg and two dead buddies (friendly fire – the ultimate oxymoron), he would say that it wasn’t too bad. “We came home to a hero’ welcome. The fellas in Viet Nam had to fight in the jungle and were not appreciated.” Perspective and empathy.

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3) People skills are effortless – Too often this is a generalized catch-all phrase. With my father, everyone was always greeted with a genuine, twinkle-eyed smile and a bear-paw of a handshake. He was polite, never off-color, and made a point to always give the person with whom he was interacting a reason to smile, whether it was a clever play on words or one of his corny jokes. But, no one ever forgot Red Lemire. Whether we were on a family vacation as children or at my Dad’s wake, people with whom he had even minimal contact, wanted to share with us a positive experience they had with him.

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4) It’s all negotiable – “It can’t hurt to ask.” Not only did I used to hear these words, but I would see them in action, as my father would often (half-kiddingly) ask for one type of discount or another. Many times, he would receive the discount just for asking or, simply, making the other person laugh. This has benefitted me and/or the organizations that I have managed so many times just because I asked.

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5) Change is good – Whether it signals the changing of the guard or to improve something that has gotten stale, it is typically beneficial to turn things over. (This philosophy may also come from my father being a storekeeper in charge of vast amounts of inventory and always needing it rotated.) When my father’s boss (and friend/mentor) retired and he was promoted, the first thing he did was rearrange the furniture in the office. Symbolic? It was a heads up that changes were on the way. What’s that you say? “It’s because we’ve always done it this way.” Time to mix it up.

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As my oldest brother, Bob (Robert C. Lemire, Jr.), stated during our Dad’s eulogy, if you could put only five words on his gravestone they would be – Here Lies a Good Man. From time-to-time, I will share that Good Man’s wisdom and humor with you in this blog. The least I can do is help you stay “In-the-Red”.

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Categories: Real Life Wisdom, Management, Odds & Ends

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2 Comments

Reply Andy Powell
5:54 PM on October 6, 2011 
Very entertaining and insightful! I can say that those are traits we can all strive for. I do not have a business or professional background, I have a blue collar background, but have recently looked to change my outlook and my stead in life through personal growth and education and each of these traits are mentioned by one or another of the authors I have read. I think you hit the nail on the head with the Greatest Generation comment, we can all benefit from the lessons of our forefathers, as they lived through some very trying times in our country's growth and we should all strive to incorporate the habits and beliefs that helped make this great nation what it is, and what it can be.
Reply Stephen Lemire
10:17 PM on October 6, 2011 
Hi Andy, Thank you for the feedback. It is greatly appreciated. Stephen