The Lilac Story – A Lesson In Leadership & Gifts That Keep On Giving

Dori Klass Alignment, Core Values, Leadership, Self-Awareness

Who Has Your Back? And Why Does This Matter?

Recently, my husband, Michael, and I raised a glass to toast his mom, my mother-in-law, Jacqueline Klass, affectionately known as Jackie. She would’ve been 93 had she still been alive. She was a quiet and diminutive, yet formidable and heart-centered, force of nature; someone who always had your back, the kind of mother I would wish on anyone I know.

A few years after we moved to Tucson, I planted three lilac trees in our backyard in Jackie’s memory and as a gift to Michael. The desert is a tough environment for those trees, yet they green up and give us the gift of their beautiful purple blossoms every year. They are hearty and predictable, like Jackie, and most leaders I know. They remind us to have each other’s backs. Why? Because it matters. Let me show you how.

An Innocent Idea

When Michael was 5 years old, he was walking home from Kindergarten with a friend when they passed a house filled with lilac trees in full bloom in a neighbor’s front yard. The branches were so laden with blossoms that many of them hung low over the fence under their weight.

Delighted, the boys began picking a few stems excited to bring bouquets of lilacs home to their mothers. Suddenly, an older gentleman rushed out of the house and began yelling at the boys for stealing his property. Surprised and scared, they dropped their bundles and ran. All the while, he kept screaming that he was going to call the police.

Unintended Consequences

Little Michael ran into his house, through the kitchen and to his bedroom, where he hid under the bed, quivering. Jackie, who’d been in the kitchen, followed him and asked what was the matter. He whispered, terrified, “Are the police here yet?” Puzzled, she coaxed the story out of him and before Michael could say, “Boo!,” she scooped him up and marched to that man’s house to give him a piece of her mind.

Taking A Stand

She pounded on his front door and when he answered, this otherwise soft-spoken woman bellowed, “How dare you frighten a child like that and threaten him with a call from the police! Besides, your trees are blocking the sidewalk so they are on public property. And, who cares anyway? You have so much here. Why not let a couple of children enjoy sharing them with their mothers? Shame – on – you!”

He stood there looking wildly uncomfortable, never getting a word in edgewise. Satisfied that she’d made her point, she marched back home with Michael by her side. Older Michael remembered that his younger self had smiled the whole way home.

Knowing That You Matter & That Someone Has Your Back

That day, that 5-year old boy learned, unequivocally, that he mattered and that someone – in this case, his mother – would take a stand for him, firmly, consciously and actively. His mother had his back. Michael’s spent 65 more years walking through life with the confidence and assurance that woman and that one moment gave him.

He’s given that same gift to others (me, our sons, his peers and co-workers, family members and friends) over and over again throughout his still meaningful and vibrant life. It’s a gift that keeps on giving and doesn’t cost anything but his attention, anchored in his intention.

What I know for sure is that it’s never too late to harness the power of being this kind of presence in another human being’s life.

We don’t all have mothers or bosses or best friends like Jackie; still, we can become it, be that for others and invite it into our lives.

All we have to do is decide that having someone’s back (and letting others have our backs) matters and gather people close who know how to do it so we can learn from them. I studied Jackie and benefitted from her warrior stance. I married Michael almost three decades ago and have been learning from him ever since. He teaches me every day how to do this and continues to do it for me, our four boys, our daughter-in-law and our grandson. My own coach is a role model for this for me.

I do it for Michael, our boys, loved ones and friends now too – and I get better at it every day.

Don’t Just Tell It To Each Other; Do It – Have Someone’s Back

I have an inner circle of girlfriends. Part of our relationship is an agreement to hold ourselves and one another accountable to being our best, most beautiful selves. We don’t just tell each other, we do it. We show up for each other, powerfully, consistently and as we intend, in thought, word and deed. Intention, integrity and alignment inform our actions. We practice on each other every day. Somedays we’re better at it than others and have to remember it’s important. So we self-correct, give each other gentle guidance, practice and play and keep at it some more. Why? Because it matters. There are many ways to do this.

For example, I had one more marathon in me. I wanted my brain to know that my 58-year old body, battered knees and mind could finish the race, injury-free, and before they closed the course. After years of living with chronic pain, I’d finally had a fourth knee surgery. And even though my knee was doing better, my brain kept thinking the discomfort would lead to that old, debilitating pain. This groove in my brain, a conditioned mental response, was holding me back, physically. My brain needed to change. Preparing for a marathon was how I brought that about.

I’d wanted to do it with friends but none of them could make the commitment at the time. So, they (Joanna and Kristina) cheered me on during the months of preparation. When I asked, they flew to Tucson to spend the weekend with me. They cheered for me all along the marathon route. I asked and they said, Yes!” Wow! Their presence meant everything to me. Just like that day when Jackie took a stand for Michael. That’s one of my lilac stories.

When I was writing one of my books, From the Boardroom to the Bedroom, Who Are You Being?, one of those friends, Joanna, checked in with me every single day, reinforcing my efforts. She encouraged me both to pause when that mattered and to get back into action again too. Writing is a private and isolating endeavor. It would’ve been easy to hide in my cave, procrastinate or give up; not with Joanna in my corner. I don’t know that I would’ve become a published author without her support. It warms my heart to remember how excited, joyful and present she was for me throughout the whole process. Another lilac story.

What Are YOUR Lilac Stories? How Are You There For Yourself & Others?

When have you been Jackie, taking a stand for someone?

And when have you been little Michael, on the receiving end of that power and grace?

And how does this show up for you, both on and off the job?

These are the experiences and moments that matter in the end; that warm our hearts and fuel our lives all along the way, especially when life is hard.

Have you cultivated your capacity to have someone else’s back and do they know it, in their bones? Have you cultivated your inner circle of friends and supporters who have your back? And, as important, have you developed the ability to receive it when they do? For some of us, that’s what’s needed most, the ability to balance the giving with the receiving, and to lead from this more centered, grounded and intentional place within ourselves.

Leaving a Legacy Begins With A Decision, Self-Awareness and Self-Leadership

One of the best ways I know to leave a legacy and make a positive difference in people’s lives every day, is to be like Jackie, Michael and Joanna. Something shifted dramatically for me when I decided I wanted to be that kind of presence, force and energy on the planet too. I took responsibility for my life and my impact when I made it important to know who I am, who I wanted to be and how I wanted to show up in the world. Jackie knew what she stood for and valued. She aligned with it every day. Michael and Joanna do too. It is very clear to me that being there for others and knowing others are there for them brings them joy. Wouldn’t you like more joy in your life?

When we know our values and what matters most to us, in my experience, it’s much easier to navigate the up’s and down’s of life, make the hard and far-reaching decisions and be there in meaningful ways for ourselves and others. This is leadership. I call it self-leadership.

“How  Good Can You Stand It?”

I’ve learned how to live a life in integrity and in alignment with my values. It’s a key to happiness, every day, no matter what life brings. It’s not a destination to reach, it’s a way of being. I ask myself and my clients all the time, “How good can you stand it?” This doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen. That will always be true too. It does mean we can navigate the ups and downs with skill, heart and grace. And we don’t have to do any of it alone!

Our lives and possibilities expand when we know who we are, what we stand for and how to have each other’s backs – this creates a kind of nirvana, or heaven on earth, in the process.

Coming Full Circle

Jackie’s declaration on the threshold of that man’s door 65 years ago changed my husband’s life forever; and it changed that man’s life for the better forever too. Later that day, he came over, with a giant bouquet of lilacs in hand, to apologize and deliver his gift. In that moment, as if shouting it from the rooftops, he proclaimed that he was committed to sharing the abundance that was his life – those lilacs – more with others as well.

When we have each other’s backs, more goodness happens than we may ever know.


So, I ask you, what do you stand for? Who do you stand for? And how will any of us know?

May these questions encourage you to create your own lilac stories and remind you, in the process, of how utterly significant you actually are. This is self-leadership, personal empowerment and love in action, both on and off the job.

Thank you to you, and all the Jackie’s in the world, for being fiercely and fully who you are, for taking a stand for who and what matters most to you, and for sharing the abundance – the lilac stories – of your lives.

Happy Birthday, Jackie! May you rest in peace.

About the Author

Dori Klass

Dori Klass coaches successful mid-career professionals, leaders in the work place and the home, committed to growing, learning and showing up powerfully and consistently, no matter what life brings; leaders who intend to be the role models they always wanted and want to make the most of their reach and impact while they can. Dori is a successful corporate leader (20+ years), entrepreneur (since 2003), certified coach and organization development consultant with over 30 years of leadership experience.