In 2012, I had a lot of transition in my life. This was the year that my father was diagnosed with and passed away from lung cancer. Daddy was my hero, my rock, my motivator, my inspiration. He was truly my support system and he was always supportive of my dreams, decisions and choices – whether they were personal or career related. I’d like to think that even though my initial decisions about my education and career were the result of my mother being a nurse, I believe that my passion for helping others was a direct result of the influences from my father. He was a natural nurturer, being a minister, and I truly believe that is the legacy that he passed on to me.
The majority of my career was in Human Resources (HR) which really fed my passion. All of my HR roles focused on being an advocate for the employee – providing HR guidance to employees and supervisors to assist them with tools to be successful in their roles. This spanned a wide array of services from 1:1 consultations to assist with issues or problems in the workplace, to group interventions and workshops to assist with managing performance and developing as leaders. My “customers” ranged from employees who were new in their career to the highest level of management who could even be at the end of their career. Rewarding? YES! Stressful? Double YES! More rewarding than not, though.
There were times when I had to make tough decisions. Take the example of the employee who I had to assist through a situation that resulted in him leaving the company. Tough experience to go through! But fast forward to a couple of years later when I saw that same employee in a social setting and the employee THANKED ME for everything that I did for them. The employee apologized to me for putting me in a situation where I had to go through some very difficult conversations. But, the appreciation was heartfelt because I believe that my empathy and nurturing to the employee demonstrated respect for all involved throughout the process and the employee realized that. Since that time the employee expressed that they had done a whole lot of soul searching and made some very significant changes in their life. Without that situation and my involvement, they did not know whether they would have had those realizations and made decisions that ultimately changed their life for the better.
There were examples like this that I helps me realize the value I provided. I remember other situations where I helped employees through situations that allowed them to course correct and even excel in their careers. There were situations where I helped leaders grow and develop in their role and as a result were able to add more value to the organizations that they were leading. These are the kind of examples that led to a major milestone in my career.
I was contacted by the Vice President (VP) of Human Resources who wanted to meet with me. I had never been called to the VP’s office before, so I was quite nervous! After a little “small talk” and checking in, he informed me that I had been nominated for the “HR Impact” Recognition Award! This was an award where the nominees were submitted by HR peers/managers and voted on by a committee of HR leadership. Not only was I nominated, he informed me that out of the many nominations, I had been selected to receive this award! What an accomplishment! This was the “apex” of my career and since the definition of apex is “the top or highest part of something”, it fit that definition. I saw this as the highest recognition of my career accomplishment – to be recognized for excellence by my peers!
The notification of this recognition came at a very vulnerable time for me because it was smack dab in the middle of the final months of my dad’s life (he had been placed in hospice care in October). I was able to share this recognition with my dad. Daddy passed away on October 30, 2012. The recognition award was given to me in January, 2013. I was told that I would have the opportunity to give an “acceptance” speech since this was such as significant recognition. Unfortunately, due to a change in the format of the recognition event, I was unable to give my speech. But I had really reflected on the value that I provided to the organization and the significance that it brought to those I served and as a result, I had already prepared the speech. Here is what I would have said to my HR community and it truly speaks to the “legacy” of my success and my significance:
“A legacy. That’s what I feel I have, that’s what I feel I will leave. My father was my hero and he left me a legacy – long before he passed away. He instilled in me a foundation that all things should be done with integrity, excellence and respect – long before I discovered these at Lilly. He was a nurturer and he passed that on to me –always thinking of someone else first. I have used these characteristics to excel in my role in HR and to make a difference in the lives of those I touch. Just as my dad would say, “We didn’t come here to make it, we came here to make a difference and move on”. I am proud to have made a difference, not just in my career, but for living a life of significance – making a difference. That is the legacy that I leave to those around me – especially my children.”
Thank you, to my father for his legacy and to those who have poured into me which allowed me to leave this legacy.
Denola M. Burton
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