Me with my dad proudly displaying the program I got for him, signed by the Minister of Transport at the time. (circa 1993)

The photo you see above was taken just before my father shared his biggest gift ever.

This month is a time of reflection for me. It marks 28 years since my father passed away. Given this and Father’s Day just past, my thoughts turn to the huge impact fathers have on all of us. I’d like to share with you a leadership lesson my dad taught me years ago, that I remember to this day.

At the time, I was working in Ottawa and coming home from a business trip celebrating National Transportation Week in Thunder Bay. I decided to detour to the Niagara Region to visit my parents before returning to Ottawa. My mother had gone to Saturday night church service which left my father and me alone for a rare father-daughter moment. 
Somehow we got chatting about his upbringing. Between the ages of 5 and 7 years old, my father lost his father to meningitis and three sisters and his mother to consumption, which is now known as tuberculosis. My dad and his two surviving sisters were sent off to live with their aunt and uncle and their children. I was aware of these details from what Mom had told me but had never heard my father speak of them directly.

I leaned into the table, closer to my dad, looking him dead in the eye and I asked him, “Dad, whatever could you have learned from this tremendous loss at such a young age”.

He answered in a heartbeat with one word. He said, “empathy”.

My father viewed the world through the eyes of empathy. What a gift he gave himself and others. Until the day my father died, he lived his life looking at others through the lens of empathy. He didn’t judge or admonish other’s behaviours. He simply put himself into their shoes and allowed himself to see the world from their viewpoint. He had gotten the message out of the mess. He refused to be a victim and instead, was a victor.

As leaders in the workplace, I invite you to join my father and look at others through the lens of empathy. If someone communicates roughly with you, it may be how their boss speaks to them and they think that’s acceptable and welcome work culture (it’s not). If someone is curt or impatient, they may be preoccupied with an illness in their family. If someone feels threatened or scared and refuses to help you by stepping up to the plate, they may be coming from a place of insecurity or overwhelm.

When you view with empathy, you realize everyone is the way they are for a reason. (PS: that’s an explanation, not an excuse).

My father taught me that coming from a place of empathy helps relationships and communication. Try it out, and when you find yourself saying, “Holy Moses, this stuff really works”, you can thank my dad. I know I do.

© 2010-2022 Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein helps leaders use their natural communication strengths to build resilient teams that talk.


  • Mary says:

    Marion, I loved this.
    So sweet of you to commemorate your dad this way and share the important message with all.
    Also, your 1993 hair is amazing!

    • Mary, thank you for taking a moment to post. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and you’re so right that sharing my father’s story really does commemorate him and the wisdom he passed down. And yes, the 1993 hair is hilarious. Big hair rocks! Lol.

  • Sharon says:

    Your father’s gift had a big impact on you Marion, because you are one of the most empathetic persons I know. And that quality greatly contributes to effective communications, as you point out and demonstrate. When I read about your father’s hardships and thought about what our parents’ generation went through, including the war, the great depression etc. it put what we’ve gone through with Covid and now mounting inflation into perspective. Let’s all stop whining and focus on the positive, which you’re so good at doing Marion!

    • Sharon, what an excellent point you make about maintaining perspective. Going through difficult times teaches empathy for others … if we just listen to the lesson. Thank you for your encouraging comments. It’s really satisfying to know that you and others find the tactics and strategies I share of use. It means a great deal to me, thank you.

  • Lynne Marie says:

    This is a beautiful story Marion ❤️ I am currently teaching and I teach my students empathy within the work environment and most importantly in how we offer customer service. Your father seemed like a wonderful man and a beautiful soul who had more wisdom than all of us put together! Thanks for sharing this story with us.

    • Lynne Marie, what an impact you have on people’s lives! As a teacher, you have the special role of influencing our future leaders. Thank you for your comments about my father’s story — I could say so much more. Everyone in our lives teaches us something, if we just listen for the lesson.

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