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Sandy Says: When Leaders Leave

Sandy Says: When Leaders Leave

I’ve come to realize that the mark of a good leader isn’t 
just how he or she leads, but what happens after he or 
she leaves.

Something is missing from this month's issue of EHS Today. You might not notice it at all if I didn't point it out to you. There's a name missing from our masthead.

John DiPaola, who's name has been on that page for years as our publisher and as our vice president/group publisher, has left the company after 25 years, saying he needed a change of pace. At the several going-away parties held for him, John was celebrated as a leader and as a coworker and friend. As each of us said our good-byes to him, I'm sure we thought about how our work lives were impacted by him and the way he managed and led EHS Today and his other brands. (In the photo, John is second from the left in the back row.)

Sandy Smith, Editor-in-Chief

What I realized, when thinking back on the 22 years (!!!) I worked with John or for John, is that true leadership often is found in the "quiet" things that don't make it into company newsletters. The emails from him congratulating me on good-looking issues of the magazines. His excitement at attending a recent awards ceremony where EHS Today took three gold awards. John's shell-shocked support of me when a consultant the company hired to analyze editorial took exception to my comments about "those who can, do, and those who can't ‘do' very well consult" lambasted EHS Today and suggested I be fired. 

Next month, we will hold our Safety Leadership Conference in Indianapolis, which probably was John's favorite event of the year. Dr. Richard Fulwiler is one of our keynoters, and his topic is "Achieving Functional Excellence Through Transformational Leadership." I've heard Rick speak on this topic several times, and it never gets old for me. I guess, because it rings so true. John, in particular, is a huge fan of Rick's message.

According to Rick's description of this session, "Leadership can be broken down into two styles – transactional and transformational.  A transactional leader focuses on the work while a transformational leader focuses both on the work and the worker.  A transactional leader achieves, at best, average results in any functional area. A transformational leader engages the worker and achieves above-average results in critical functional areas…"

Rick often tells the story about a plant manager who took over a poorly performing location and turned it around. The manager did it by engaging the workers in the improvement process and he engaged them by showing he cared about them as people. He knew them all by name, he knew the names of their family members and he displayed photos of their families and drawings by their children in his office. They would have walked through fire for him.

Years ago, my apartment was robbed. My dogs were injured by the robbers, who took everything of value from my house. I had no renter's insurance and no money to replace anything once I paid the vet bills for my dogs.

When I returned to the office, a coworker presented me with several hundred dollars collected from our group.  I was so touched I cried.

Years later, the former coworker and I went to lunch and I mentioned how much that act of kindness touched me. We realized during that conversation that John had contributed a signifigant amount of the money given to me.

The mark of a great leader is that the lessons they teach, by their words and example, last long after they leave. In safety, that means that they leave behind a process and a system for continuous improvement that exists and continues providing positive results long after they're gone. 

In the case of John, he built a large "family" of people who truly care about each other and feel like they have a role to play in the success of EHS Today and our group. 

Behind his back, I called John "Big Papa." To his face, I jokingly called him "capo tutti di capi" (boss of all bosses). When he announced he was leaving, I called him all the bad words. But I'll always call him "friend."

Send an e-mail with your thoughts to [email protected].


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