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Just Listen - Tribute - Who are YOU Grateful to?

Who are YOU grateful to? Have you told them?

Tears are the vehicle that God gives us
to transport someone
from our lives into our hearts,
where they live forever.

One of my dearest friends and supports, Ward Wieman, died on Saturday after a prolonged and valiant battle against cancer. I would like to say he was a mentor, but the respect and caring he had for me (and many like me) was so much that he would prefer to think of us as friends.

I am not alone in the deep sorrow I feel. I try not to cry in public, but I actually welcome the feeling of how much Ward meant to me and others. And my tears are not just about missing him, but about being grateful to him.

Ward’s entire life was to be of service and to take and make the effort to truly understand you and then to help you in any way he could. He was one of the most selfless people I have ever known and having him in my life always made me want to be a better man.

Nearly fifteen years ago, Ward saved my bacon when after making an afternoon presentation to a consulting group I felt like a total failure. My topic was, “How to Get Paid What You’re Worth as a Consultant” and I had made the foolish mistake of opening my talk by trying some gimmick to impress this group. It went over like a lead balloon and my presentation proceeded to deteriorate from there.

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After that there was time for the consultants to have a cocktail and network with each other. While they were doing that, I was in the rest room, nauseated and thinking of ways to get out of the evening presentation that I was to make following dinner.

I thought if I ran away, I would have trouble making future presentations in the business world (I was three years into venturing into that arena from a full time clinical psychotherapy practice). I spoke with Ward about this and he brainstormed with me about scrapping my prepared evening talk and instead facilitating an entirely interactive discussion where people would share stories of “not being paid what they were worth as a consultant” and then others would share how they had solved a similar situation. And of course Ward volunteered to go first with a humble tale of being stiffed by a client. I have always thought he made it up for my benefit, just to direct the subsequent conversation in just the direction it needed to go.

And the result? After one of the worst presentations this group had seen in the afternoon, they actually stayed later for the evening presentation than they had ever stayed. Several came up to me to thank me for the best presentation they had ever seen in this organization.

That was quintessential Ward.

Ward has continued to support me through my career as he has done for many others. More recently he has been the heart and soul and leader of a Trusted Advisor Network (which we refer to as the TAN group) and even more recently (three weeks before he died) he brought me in as the main outside speaker to an Annual Sales Meeting of Navco, a company that he had recently become the CEO of and that he had quickly helped become even more successful than it had been.

Ward recently served as CEO of Navco and was the Founder & owner of Management Overload. He achieved international distinction as a management consultant related to his successes with rapid business growth and turnarounds. Prior to management consulting, Ward enjoyed twelve years of progressively responsible executive positions in three Fortune 100 companies, achieving high executive posts in two of these companies. He also served as an advisor to President Carter at the White House on Zero Base Budgeting and productivity measurement.

Ward started his consulting career in 1975 with Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co . After three years of managing up to 84 consultants, in 1978, he started his own consulting practice. Ward has served as acting CEO, COO and GM for several clients. His clients include a broad spectrum of businesses from aerospace to food service. His accomplishments range from divestiture of a $125,000 dance studio to winning a $125,000,000 contract dispute award for a shipbuilder. Ward also functions as a board member to several corporations.

In 1972, he accepted responsibility for corporate financial functions reporting to the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Rohr Industries. His responsibilities included acquisitions, mergers and divestitures relating to joint ventures, subsidiaries and vendors. He achieved industry notoriety by quantitatively relating disruption of production operations to the resulting costs. This discovery led to multimillion dollar claims awards and commencement of Ward’s consulting career.

In 1966, Ward joined Texas Instruments to create and manage their Program Management department. From 1966 to 1972, he advanced through line and staff management positions culminating in responsibility for corporate planning activities. This position reported to the president.

In 1963, he started his career with Eastman Kodak as an Industrial Engineer and was able to enter the ranks of engineering management over the next three years.

Ward held a Master of Science Degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Missouri. He taught undergraduate engineering subjects at Missouri University and earned distinction as a Registered Professional Engineer. More recently, Ward appeared on several TV shows and international radio. He was featured in numerous newspaper articles, magazine articles and three books. He was a sought after speaker on the subjects of Rapid Business Growth, Turnarounds and Negotiating.

I hope Ward knew how grateful so many of us were to him. And for those of us who wonder if we let him know sufficiently about how we felt about him, I am certain he is in Heaven replying with his gentle, caring smile, “Yes I knew, now go on and have a great life.”

A final note, because Ward would not be pleased if he caused us to feel so sad.  He would prefer to put a smile on our face as much in death as he did in life.  To that end, I am reminded of the description of “A Good Death” that Dr. Henry A. Murray passed on to another dear friend and mentor of mine, Dr. Edwin Shneidman. As Murray defined it: “It’s dying so as to be as little a pain in the ass to your family and friends as possible.”

If that is the case, Ward had indeed “a good death,” but more than that, he had a great life.  And for those of us who were privileged to know him and be known by him, our lives were made great by his presence.

Who are you grateful to? Have you let them know? Shouldn’t you?

Mark Goulston, M.D., is the author of the new bestselling book Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.


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