My sister, Cathy

As you all know by now, my sister, Cathy, passed away Thursday, April 23rd at 5:55 PM after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 57.  I was thinking about writing a long and intense tribute, and then I heard her voice in my head saying, “Dan, keep it short and not too dramatic.” So I’ve decided to focus on one word.

Cared,

Cathy cared.

She cared about her parents enormously. She cared to an unbelievable degree about her five siblings, her three sisters-in-law, and her brother-in-law. And she cared to a mind-bogglingly degree about her 11 nieces and nephews.

She cared about her friends. To be Cathy’s friend was to receive a steady stream of handwritten notes, gifts on special occasions, visits, and a river of nice words and compliments.

She cared about the quality of her work. She cared about details. She cared about the people she worked with. She cared about her customers. She even cared about the safety of her customers. She created the “It Can Wait” campaign that has swept the nation and saved a lot of lives by getting people to stop texting/emailing while they are driving.

She cared about her communities and her alma maters: Rosati-Kain High School and Northwestern University. She cared about the Girl Scouts and Girls, Inc. She cared about mentoring people and helping them to see their potential

For me personally, Cathy’s legacy is wrapped up in one word: caring. If I can ever care to a small degree about the different parts of my life as much as Cathy cared every minute of her life about the different people in her life, then I will be happy. Caring was Cathy’s strategy for success in everything she did as a daughter, sister, aunt, executive, community involvement person, and alumnus. Cathy, thank you for supporting my dreams and for encouraging me so often. Thank you for being so kind to Barb, Sarah, and Ben.

One quick thing I will brag about her. When she died she was the highest-ranking female executive in the world for AT&T. And she had that role for the past eight years. She ended her career as the Chief Global Marketing Officer for AT&T, which she held since June 2007. In so many ways, Cathy’s conscientiousness affected the AT&T Brand that we have seen since the original iPhone came out in July 2007.

My dad, who passed away in 2009, used to tell us when we were growing up, “Never forget you’re a Coughlin.” Now the world will never forget Cathy Coughlin. As Dad would say, “I’m really proud of you Cathy.”

What’s the minimum level of excellence you will accept in anything you do?

Disney/Pixar Animation Studios has made 14 films and all 14 have gone to #1 at the box office. The entire Walt Disney Company depends on these films to create new characters and rides and merchandising items and on and on. Each film generates profits in many different ways. From 2006 to 2013 they made one film every year.

However, in 2014 Ed Catmull decided that the film slated for that year was not meeting the standard of excellence he expected from Pixar, and so he delayed the film until 2015. That move said an enormous amount to me. It said that he placed excellence above short-term profits. He thought about the long-term brand and the relationship with customers who expect a high degree of excellence from Pixar.

In your work what is the minimum level of excellence that you are willing to accept? Clarify that. And then never let anything you deliver be below that minimum standard. And you can always raise that standard in the future.

Volunteer to Fast Track Your Professional Development

I didn’t get serious about volunteering until I was 34. Wow, I wasted a lot of opportunities to grow professionally.

Volunteering is the magical way to grow as a professional without having to invest money. Volunteer in the activities you want to get better at. Volunteer to help other people as often as you can. You will grow tremendously through the experience. You will learn new skills, you will learn what you really enjoy doing, and you will learn what you really can’t stand doing. You will get better in so many ways, and you will meet some interesting people along the way.

Don’t make volunteering your full-time job. Do make it a very important way to mature, to develop yourself, to meet new people, and to make a positive difference in the world.

Be Less Intense With People

Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself so seriously. Don’t stress people out in the middle of every conversation.

Rolling your eyes, shrugging your shoulders, showing obvious disappointment in other people, taking heavy sighs, and tapping your finger on your desk while looking at another person are all ways to show extreme intensity and impatience to another person when it’s really not necessary.

You might argue that you’re not screaming or swearing at the person and so it’s not really that bad. While that may be true, it still shows that bubbling inside of you is an extremely intense emotion that is seeping its way out to the other person. If you’re like that all day with every person you meet with or every time with certain people, then I encourage you to “chill out,” which is a phrase my kids make fun of me for.

Just chill. Go for a walk outside. Look at pictures of your family. Think about funny moments. Sit back and laugh. If you can dissipate some of the intense emotions running through your mind and body, you can come across to other people as calmer and more confident and more trusting of them. If you make them feel that you are upset with them or impatient with them during every second of the conversation, you are likely not going to get their best performance. Who wants to be around that kind of intensity every second?

Your Heroes

How do you define a hero?

For me, it’s someone who really displays courage in helping another person. What’s your definition?

Who are your heroes and why do you think of them that way?

First, I can say who my heroes are not. They are not sports stars or movie stars. They are not elite CEOs or famous entertainers or famous authors. They are not necessarily my favorite teachers or coaches. All those folks are performing a role and they are performing that role extremely well. But to me that’s not “hero status.”

My heroes are people who faced very, very difficult challenges and did so courageously while still focusing on trying to help other people. Some of my heroes are friends and family members. Some are famous historical leaders who took on very difficult challenges. Some are people I read about who genuinely tried to help other people.

Think about your heroes. You will learn a lot about yourself.