“You are a man now. What you do or don’t do is your choice, but you have to own the consequences of those choices.” These were the words spoken to 15-year-old me by my father almost 22 years ago. To this day, I still reflect on that moment and the many more where he offered sage advice to the developing young adult he was charged with raising. Today he turns 77 and I would like to not only wish him a happy birthday, but reflect on some of the lessons he imparted upon me.

First off, Elmer Lawrence is an extremely proud veteran of the Vietnam War. He enlisted into the Navy and served on the Fletcher-class destroyer, the USS Pritchett. He only served one term, but these years not only shaped him as a man; they served as the foundation he raised me on as well. I can’t even begin to count all the things he taught me that led with, “in the service we…” His many lessons not only motivated me to join the service; it also sparked a life-long passion for studying leadership principles.

One lesson he taught me that impacted me the most was indirect and something I gained from his example more than his words. I have reflected over the years how he always has been able to stand out from within a crowd. He never played organized sports, didn’t have a formal college education or go through some executive coaching program to learn leadership; however, every organization he has ever been a part of, he was a recognized leader. In fact, the only formal training he had on being a leader was as a young enlisted sailor. How did he do it then?

I have written before about how I learned to gain the trust of others through sweat equity and genuinely wanting to help others. My father worked circles around his peers. He didn’t do this to show them up; rather, to lift them up. I can’t think of a single moment where he was asked to help someone and he said ‘no.’ Still to this day, he will drop what he is doing to be there for someone in need. That is true service.

Another thing learned from him was to guard my reputation. “Who you associate with, is who people will think you are.” Over the years I have morphed this into, “if you want to be a champion, run with champions.” We tend to act like and find our motivation from those around us. When all of our friends are taking college classes or doing things to take care of their Airmen, we tend do these things too. When our friends are motivated, we probably are too. It is not solely because of peer pressure; rather, we gravitate towards those with similar interests. So, take a look at your friends and you will see your reflection. If you don’t like what you see, it is time to make some tough changes.

Although there are many more lessons he taught me, I am going to discuss just one more. One thing my father and all of my siblings are known for is our candor. In fact, I am probably the most politically correct and most reserved out of all the Lawrences. However, I never have shied away from offering my honest opinion when asked or been afraid to be vocal about something I think is wrong. This has served me very well over the years as I have been trusted to handle some tough situations because of this character trait alone.

Not only has my father planted the seeds of leadership development within me, he has provided an example of what a man should be. He has also helped me to discern my purpose on this planet at a young age. I wake up each day to serve others through mentorship just as he has in my life. I hope that my children see some of these qualities within me too and they pass them onto those around them, but until then Happy Birthday Dad and Thank You for placing me on the right path.


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