Just Listen -- Who Are YOU Grateful To?

05/08/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

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 say that he was a mentor, but the respect and caring that he had for me (and many like me) was such that he would have preferred 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 about being of service and making the effort to truly understand others and then help them 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 with some gimmick to impress the group. It went over like a lead balloon, and my presentation proceeded to deteriorate from there.

Following my presentation, there was time for the consultants to have a cocktail, after which we would have dinner and then I would give a second presentation. While they were sipping cocktails and networking with each other, I was in the restroom, nauseated and thinking of ways to get out of my evening presentation.

If I ran away, I thought, 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 in which people would share stories of "not being paid what they were worth as a consultant" and others would share how they had solved a similar situation. Ward volunteered to go first, of course, humbly recounting a time when a client stiffed him. I have always thought that he made the story up for my benefit, to direct the subsequent conversation in the direction it needed to go.

And the result? Even after suffering through my afternoon presentation, surely one of the worst they had seen, the consulting group stayed later for my evening presentation than they had ever stayed. Several came up to me to thank me for the best presentation they had seen in the organization.

That was quintessential Ward.

Ward held a Masters 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 three books and numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He was a sought-after speaker on the subjects of rapid business growth, turnarounds, and negotiating.

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

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 a position in which he was responsible for corporate planning activities. This position reported to the president.

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.

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 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 functioned as a board member to several corporations.

More recently he had been the heart and soul and leader of a Trusted Advisor Network (which we refer to as the TAN group), and just three weeks before he died he brought me in as the main outside speaker at an Annual Sales Meeting of Navco, a company whose CEO he had recently become and that, with his help, quickly became even more successful than it had been.

In addition to recently serving as CEO of Navco, Ward was the founder and owner of Management Overload. He achieved international distinction as a management consultant due to his successes with rapid business growth and turnarounds. Prior to management consulting, Ward enjoyed 12 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 on zero-based budgeting and productivity measurement during Carter's presidency.

Even after the bathroom incident, Ward continued to support me through my career, as he did for many others. I hope Ward knew how grateful so many of us were to him. And for those of us who wonder if we sufficiently let him know 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; Ward would not be pleased if he caused us to feel so sad about his passing. 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 onto 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 a** 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?