Valentine’s Day is the traditional day of love for most Americans. Oh sure, we know we should express love daily to those who mean the most in our lives, like our spouse, children, parents, and grandchildren. But where does love fit into the workplace mix?

After retiring as CEO from what I consider to be a very successful career, I have enjoyed several lunches with friends that are “checking in” to see how things are going. On many occasions colleagues ask me the same question, “So after 35 years in business, what important lesson(s) did you learn that you could share?”

I found myself telling the same story. (By the way, becoming an effective storyteller is one of those lessons.) In 1972, yes that is not a typo, I walked into Chalmette High School as a freshmen, and was assigned to my homeroom. Chalmette was a public, all boys school in St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. I was assigned to a home room class with 25 other young men that would be the starting point of every school day for the next four years. Homeroom teachers were assigned to stay with the class for all four years of a students high school career.

My teacher was a 23 year old, first time female teacher. On this first day, she was so full of energy and passion, that the whole class immediately was drawn to this teaching “rookie”. She was with us for all four years of our extremely impressionable high school careers. She counseled and cared for her home room class, and in our senior year, even began to coach us on college life, with conversations about doing our own laundry, how to budget so you have more money than month, and time management with college courses.

As a high school quarterback and student government president, I had a special bond with this amazing teacher, that talked to me about leadership, integrity and humility. As a student athlete, that humility discussion happened more than I care to admit. We used to joke about when I became a successful “big business man” that I would return to New Orleans, and take her out for the best dinner in the city.  We would have wine, an amazing dinner and laugh about growing up together. Even at graduation, she joked with me about “making the big bucks and buying that fancy dinner.” This young first-time teacher had an amazing influence on the man I would become.

Then life happened. I went to college. Got a job. Got married and had kids. Moved from Louisiana to St. Louis. Moved from St. Louis to Dallas, and then Dallas to Sydney, Australia. I never lived up to my commitment on that “fancy dinner”. Later in my life, I decided that I would walk in unannounced into Chalmette High (a school where I still know the principal today, yes 44 years later) and take my favorite teacher to dinner.

I walked into the principal’s office and Mr. Warner walked out and greeted my by name. He is such a blessing to the families that live in St. Bernard Parish. When I told him what I was there for he informed me that the teacher that I was there to see had committed suicide years earlier. We didn’t get to share that dinner. I never got to tell this woman the impact that she had on my life. She was never thanked for the hours she poured into making me a better person. I regret this to this very moment.

This message is not only about romantic love, although you should tell your family everyday that you love them. This message is about everyone that has impacted your life. Tell them now, as life offers no guarantee about tomorrow. Tell your family and tell your friends.

In the workplace, tell people how thankful you are for what they do. Use phrases like

“I truly appreciate all that you do to help build our team.”

“I love your passion for what you do, and your commitment to our team.”

“It is truly a joy to work with you.”

“I haven’t told you how much I appreciate your coaching and mentorship. Thank you.”

I have heard it said that Nirvana occurs when you love what you do, love who you do it with, and love who you do it for. I hope you find your Nirvana! If someone is important to you, if someone has positively impacted the person you are, just tell them. And then smile.

One note to this article. After I published this, I went to a luncheon and heard motivational speaker, Waldo Waldman talk about the importance of appreciating what others have done for you. Here is a great quote from the “Wingman” himself, “When you drink from the fountain, remember who dug the well.” Nicely put, my friend.

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