My First Lesson In Leadership and Culture

A tribute to Nick Pape

 I was out riding my bike with my wife to get some exercise on Saturday March 28, when I received word that a friend of mine, Nick Pape, had passed due to the Coronavirus.  The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I was floored. Here we are social distancing, taking precautions and working hard to keep the business of work moving forward. And then you take a shot to the gut.  An otherwise healthy, vibrant, successful, and tremendous human being was taken from us far too soon. To make matters worse, with all that is going on, there isn’t really a way to pay proper respects. We can’t congregate, share stories, laugh and cry together.  I decided to take a risk and write this article instead. I wanted to let the world know about Nick. Nick had an indelible impact on me that I have carried with me throughout my life. He taught me the importance of culture in the context of building teams.

 I met Nick when I was 18 years old, as a freshman at the University of Connecticut.  I was a shy, introverted person. I had a significant hearing loss, which, combined with my poor eyesight, led to a lack of self-confidence, which permeated my life.  I decided to pledge the Connecticut Alpha chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. For myself and 17 other young men, the Paladins, as our pledge class would come to be named, Nick would be our brotherhood development leader.  Each week Nick created and coordinated exercises and activities designed to build a cohesive team out of a myriad of personalities from many different walks of life. His job was to instill in us the values held dear by our fraternity - virtue, diligence and brotherly love.  We had common goals and a drive. Our class grew very close. To this day, the best friends I have ever had in my life are fellow pledges from the Fall of 1989. Over thirty years have passed since that fall. The Paladins are spread all over the world now. To a man, I know that if I reach out to any one of them to talk, grab a beer, solve a problem or ask for help, each one would willingly oblige.  Today, I am a very outgoing, confident, and successful person. I owe no small part of that to Nick and Sig Ep.

The lessons learned under Nick have served me well throughout my life both personally and professionally.  You build cohesive teams by knocking down barriers. Those barriers may exist due to language, culture, religion, race, socio-economic status, differences of opinion, and more.  Common goals and shared experiences are key. True leaders are not the smartest people in the room. True leaders help teams remove barriers to collaboration and success. Fraternities do not always get the respect they deserve.  To many, “frats” are just a bunch of partying misfits. Those of us who have experienced it know better. You learn what it means to be a leader, how to get along and live with people who are very different from you. By no means were we choir boys.  We raised hell and made our fair share of poor decisions, but the lessons learned stand the test of time.

Nick, for myself, Brian, Andrew, Al, Rich, Nate, Gordon, Alex, Mark, Todd, Rob, Sebastian, Dan, Guy, Alec, Fernando, Josh and John, a heart-felt HFF.  We love you and miss you. Thank you for the most valuable lessons in brotherhood, friendship and leadership. To Nick’s family and friends, you have our deepest sympathies.  We lost an amazing friend, yet Nick is not the only one in this tragic time. Let’s all remember that no matter what we do and who we work for, the people we spend the majority of our adult lives with - our colleagues and co-workers, are all on our team. 

We’re all human and we are all in this together. - Bill Devlin

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