In 1997, Tuesdays with Morrie was published and became a bestseller in the following years. I watched with detached fascination as all the emotional ‘sheep’ around me devoured this book and sang the praises of its life-changing impact. However, I knew I was too clever to waste my time jumping on this gimmicky, emotional bandwagon.
So what makes me bring this up 26 years later? I re-evaluated my preconceived notions when the author, Mitch Albom, spoke at a recent SHRM23 conference. I realized there were things I didn’t know about this book, and the first among them was… well, anything. The only thing I knew about the book was that it was feelings-driven and popular, so I had dismissed it on principle. Remember Ted Lasso’s speech about being curious? Yeah… I was being the opposite of that. I judged harshly prematurely, and missed an opportunity to grow. When forced to engage with Albom’s story, I discovered it was filled with leadership lessons I have spent the last several years learning, as well as ones that I am still learning today.
Not a cog in the system
Morrie left a legacy not just in those final Tuesdays with Albom, but in decades as a teacher pouring himself into the lives of his students. This was abundantly clear from their first interaction. Not only does he stop roll call to ask if Albom prefers to go by Mitch or Mitchell, but when Albom answers that his friends call him Mitch, the response is, “Mitch it is, and I hope someday you will consider me a friend, too.”
A life philosophy
Even on his deathbed, when he could not move any part of his body without assistance, Morrie was still aware of the legacy he was leaving. His philosophy was “giving is living,” and everyone who entered his room experienced that. They came prepared to offer support. They left having talked about themselves. They left feeling heard, seen and comforted. Morrie knew his legacy wasn’t the money he earned or the awards he won. Those don’t last, but what we pour into others, the memories we leave, the little impacts we make — those last and have a ripple effect.
OG servant leader
Tuesdays with Morrie is a great example on how to become humble, vulnerable servant leader. This story, from 26 years ago, holds the values that I have spent the last few years working so hard to learn. As I am, many years after the fact, opening this book and having my own visits with Morrie, I encourage you to consider doing the same. But whether or not we read the book, we can continue to grow and challenge ourselves to live up to Morrie’s legacy. We can take some time to think about “giving is living,” and the multiple ways we can apply it to our own lives. That being said, if it feels too daunting, here are a few baby-step questions to get that ball rolling and help us be more present:
- Am I fully engaged in the task or conversation at hand?
- Am I actively listening to my colleagues and giving them my full attention?
- Am I proactively seeking opportunities to support and help others?
- Am I effectively managing my time and priorities to maximize productivity and efficiency?
- Am I fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and heard?
Don’t become rigid
We don’t learn the final lesson from Morrie directly. Instead, we see it from Morrie’s influence in Albom’s life. Before reconnecting with Morrie, Albom was a well-established sports writer, and was entirely focused on growing that career. He knew what success meant, and he was well on the way. Now he is a best-selling author of multiple books, philanthropist and public speaker. This was not Albom’s intended path. This was not his idea of success. He only wrote Tuesdays with Morrie because he wanted to help cover the cost of Morrie’s medical bills. He ventured out of his planned path. He took a few steps in an unknown direction, and in doing so discovered a whole new way forward. Albom did not stay married to his idea of what success looks like and instead, through Morrie’s influence, impacted so many lives with his books, and helped so many people through his philanthropic work.
These changes are subtle, so they can be easy to dismiss, just as I originally dismissed Albom’s book. But that can be the case for profound things. They are simple and organic. That’s how they can touch so many lives. Morrie forever changed Albom’s life just by being present, caring, challenging, and truly knowing him. This was the kind of leader Morrie was, and the leader that I am striving to become.