12 Leadership and Life Lessons Learned - A Friend Lost, A Lamp Lit

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was enjoying a visit in Thailand, when a motorcycle accident put him in the hospital. He was hospitalized for 6 broken ribs.  Shortly after, a blood clot moved to the left side of his brain.  A neuro surgeon did what he could to relieve the pressure in his brain, but the injury left Don in a coma.  He left many of us thousands of miles away wishing for the opportunity to see his smile once more. His son, daughter and best friend, a retired ER physician and a medical transport service transported him back to Whitefish, Montana, where loved ones were able to say goodbye.

There are very few people in life that really touch your soul.  Don was one of them.  In the short time I knew Don, where he was a guest in my house for a week, Don demonstrated such a level of compassion, peace and joy that radiated from his very being. His gentle laughter and calming voice reached me at a time in my life when I needed them most. Along with my friend Sue, I would Skype Don and beg him to lead us in meditation. I wish I kept in touch more frequently and found more time in my life to reach out to Don for those moments of meditation.  Specifically, Don taught me the art of Kum Nye, a form of Tibetan meditation involving painfully slow movements.  I find myself craving the depth of meditation that I was able to reach when Don led it.

In the midst of 2500 people from over 20 countries at this weekend's Wisdom 2.0 Conference, I learned of Don's passing.  While I kept the information to myself, I felt Don's presence amidst great minds like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Byron Katie, and Eileen Fisher. My journal is full of bits of wisdom passed between participants and presenters at the conference.  Each represents hope, a light radiating by which we are able to see more clearly. The information below begins with the name of the presenter who shared it, but please note that my interpretation of what they shared may not directly reflect their message but rather reflect what their message meant to me.  Each nugget will forever be colored with the loving example of my friend, Don, who was and remains ever present in my mind.


  1. Parneet Pal (Wisdom Labs) – If you reach people where they are, with information that connects with them personally, then the likelihood of affecting positive change in their lives increases. The healthier people are, the better they are at their jobs.
  2. Richard Schwartz (Internal Family Systems) – “Go with compassion to our internal enemies, the inner critic.” As leaders, not only do we face our own inner critic, but we approach our relationships with the deep understanding that each team member has her own internal struggle.
  3. Jack Kornfield (Wisdom Teacher) and Trudy Goodman (Insight LA) - Of all the brilliance shared by Jack and Trudy, the greatest lesson for leadership I learned came from actually observing their interactions. At one point, Jack ever so kindly thanked his sweetheart and her response was equally warm. The lesson – while there was no physical touching, the public display of affection for each other was palpable. We need more PDA for one another. Let the world see our appreciation for one another.
  4. Laurent Potdevin (lululemon athletica inc.) – “You don't always need to have the right answer; you need to have the right questions. Stay curious and listen.” This says it all.IMG_8832
  5. Tami Simon (Sounds True) – “Look at your own s*!t, own it, and take responsibility for it.” In our personal and work relationships, it’s always easy to find external reasons to explain the challenges in our life.  Start with yourself.
  6. Christine Barrington (Eileen Fisher Lifework) – “Listen for the life force and let it guide you.” When it comes time to make decisions, seek counsel from your trusted team but don't neglect the wisdom of the counsel that exists within. Spend time in stillness and quiet to feel the truth that your body holds.
  7. Scott Kriens (Multiversity) – Oftentimes we look at “change like a two-armed trapeze act, where we have one arm grabbing on to the first bar for safety and only one arm reaching out. Transition, on the other hand, is like a one-armed trapeze act where we are forced to fully let go without safety and comfort before grabbing on to the other bar.” Embrace transition- use it as an opportunity to seek the gifts that your team members bring to the organization. In times of transition, relationship building is key.
  8. Chip Conley (Airbnb) – Sometimes we need to “strategically forget” our concept of self, derived from our past experiences, “long enough to be mentor and intern at the same”. Confident leaders know that they have more to learn than they have to share.
  9. Jon Kabat-Zinn (Mindfulness Teacher) – What if moments of self-criticism were looked at as a “simple raindrop” in a passing weather pattern, rather than a deluge that we allow to linger like the winter night sky at the North Pole. “Is our narrative big enough to be accurate of who we are,” and as leaders in the process of discovering our own narrative, do we strive to help our team accurately perceive the immense gifts and value they bring to the organization?IMG_8838
  10. Byron Katie (The Work) – “Plan it all out and then allow for no plan because it never happens like you think it's going to happen.” While you may struggle with balancing personal life and work life, you may be overthinking things. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, put 110% in and be committed and present.
  11. Eileen Fisher (Eileen Fisher Lifework) – Through her very presence, Eileen's warm humor and humility are an example of some of the best leadership qualities. We tend to take ourselves too seriously, and overlook the value of our relationships. As we realize that without our relationships, without the support of our team, we are but one soul, alone on a journey.  Building relationships and putting energy into the development of the gifts of each team member around a purpose and mission greater than ourselves is without question the essence of leadership.
  12. Don Nelson (Going to the Sun Trekking)- At the end of the day, the most important quality of leadership is a sincere appreciation for life and a humble recognition of its fragility. I will leave you with these words from Don, his last message sent from Thailand:

May you be safe.

May you be healthy and strong.

May you be happy.

May you find peace.

May you be at ease, calm and balanced.


Rest In Peace, Don.


4 responses to “12 Leadership and Life Lessons Learned – A Friend Lost, A Lamp Lit”

  1. Thank you for capturing these moments. The feeling at Wisdom 2.0 was one of compassion and openheartedness. I didn’t take as many notes as I would have liked because I was so very much entranced by every speaker, every conversation and every interaction. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are appreciated. 💜

  2. Charlie, what an honor to know you. Thanks for the heartfelt sharing, and the thoughtful summary of key points. Sending a green and grounded hug of compassion from PDX.

  3. Thank you. Sorrow for your loss.

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