A few days ago, my friend Paul Schlieben died. Paul was flying alone in his Cessna 182 just over 70 miles from his home in Peterborough. Something went wrong: he informed the control tower that he was going to try an emergency landing, but the small machine crashed to the ground beside the small airport runway.
Paul was a programmer by profession, entrepreneur by chance (like me) and pilot by vocation. And he was a great guy, generous, a philanthropist. Everybody loved Paul. When he left his company, he created a charitable program that allowed students to obtain their pilot’s license, acquiring flight hours in exchange for community service. And as a member of Angel Flight, he took disadvantaged medical patients in need of transportation across the United States in his plane, for free.
Very rarely you’d be around Paul without him smiling. It was a smile that came from within, because he was a happy man. There is no better boss than a happy man. You’d enter his company and feel it, because everyone else was smiling too. There was even a huge dog walking around the office. People worked hard, but comfortably.
When we became partners, Paul made me visit Peterborough and convince his team that being distributors of Tango/04 was a good idea. Paul already knew this, but didn’t want to impose it by force: a good leader is a consensus maker.
His ideal was to create a fun environment where people could grow and make money. The basis for their success was teamwork, which is why everyone was important at Softlanding.
A leader is a team builder. A leader is a creator of healthy environments. I mentioned that a happy boss is the best boss; the worst boss is a bitter, toxic boss. Paul had problems just like you and me, but his smile never vanished. How much can a simple smile, a pat on the shoulder or an unexpected congratulation motivate us? And how many times do team managers forget about something so simple, so effective and so inexpensive?
I saw him for the last time in his home town in New Hampshire last year in June. You can never know when the last time will be. We promised to meet again, but as very well said by Jorge Luis Borges: “only the Gods can promise.”
Rest in peace Paul; thank you for the light of your smile.