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By David Harder on April, 19, 2017

How One Boss Changed My Entire Life

Doing the right thing seems to be as much the product of instinct as intelligence.


Today, a dear friend and I are getting together with our former boss – Gail Angel. I have not seen her in twenty-three years! Gail owned one of the most successful staffing companies in California. Gail also taught me the very greatest lesson on the first day I showed up as a new general manager.


I remember 1985 as an absolutely terrifying time in my life. People were dying…in droves. None of us knew how AIDS was transmitted. Before it became a world disease it was a gay disease. By the grace of God, my partner and I were healthy. Both of us were at a community event where the physician who identified HIV – Michael Gottlieb announced to hundreds of leaders this new disease killed all of its victims in weeks rather than years. We turned and looked at the audience. Many of the men were gaunt and covered with sores. But the hysteria that terrible illness generated in those early days separated the weakest from the rest of the pack. So many people died in isolation from their families and in some cases, their closest friends.


Economic shunning ran through the business world. Many employers were pressured by their insurance companies to get rid of employees with the dreaded disease. Somehow, I guess they justified the economic opportunity with the morals of the time.


On that first day, Gail took me to meet several leaders within the agency. We met Vicki Johnson – a gorgeous African American woman who ran the downtown office. I had already heard that one of her consultants had just returned from the hospital in a desperate struggle with pneumonia. He was a charming young man named Jonathan. Vicki proudly introduced me to everyone in her operation. We came to Jonathan’s office. He could barely stand up but he did and he warmly shook my hand.


“We are so happy you have joined the company,” he beamed.


A moment later, I turned to Vicki and excused myself for a quick visit to the bathroom. As I was vigorously scrubbing and washing my hands, Johnathan walked in the door.


He asked, “Everything OK?”


I smiled and fled the bathroom.


It hadn’t been but a few minutes when the other two owners joined us in Vicki’s office. They were there to welcome Johnathan back from the hospital. I watched the four women embrace and kiss the one individual in the building who most needed affection. A few minutes later I jumped into my car ashamed, sad and so very moved.


It was a turning point.


Not long after, Jonathan passed away. Those women loved and supported him until the end.


What am I going to tell Gail today?


When she walked in the door, both of us were stunned at how youthful and beautiful she is after 25 years. Today, Gail is in her third career as a celebrated artist with installations in several leading museums and a cadre of fans. But before I could ask any questions she hugged me and said,


“I cannot imagine what it is like to touch so many people’s lives. What is that like for you?”


I told her that when I open my eyes in the morning, I think of someone whose life has changed and transformed for the better. There are so many today that I prefer to think about them one-person-at-a-time. I told her that finding that unique gift led to an unexpected and grace-filled life. I told her that she had also done that for me. I had never recounted the impact of that day and as I shared the memories with her, Gail’s eyes filled up. She remembered Jonathan as if it was yesterday.


Even now, I don’t know if Gail’s behavior with that young man was an act of courage. She always seemed so totally fearless. All that I do know is she did the right thing and it changed my life.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.

David Harder