The Best Leadership Lessons Are From Loved Ones

By Paul Cortissoz

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In late April our family lost a great leader. The world lost one if you ask me.

My uncle John Cortissoz or “Big Jack” as he was affectionately known to family and friends. A loving husband, father, brother and family man who was dedicated to serving others.

Dynamic personality. Movie star qualities. Former advertising executive with Businessweek and Inc. magazines. Quintessential New Yorker. Storyteller extraordinaire.

There are few people that can naturally have others just gravitate to them with no effort. Just being themselves. He was it. The real deal.


There are so many “big” things that happen in life that we end up forgetting. Yet it is the “little” things that matter most.

A smile. A hug. A conversation. A visit. A photo. Just being together.

I did not spend enough time with him, but will never forget the time we spent.

Years pass like minutes in our “busy” adult lives. Time and distance are a human construct. Love is forever.

I looked up to him. Every time I walked through Grand Central Station, it never was lost on me I was walking in the footsteps on my current and departed family members. It humbled me. It gave me strength. It made me feel connected to something bigger than myself. In my own small way was the extension of their legacy. The next generation.

It’s important to be small to be big.


Obviously attending a funeral is something no one looks forward to. Yet at the same time it can be a powerful event.

Reminiscing about the past. Discovering information about the person you did not know. Being with friends and family members you may not have seen in a long time. A collective and outward display of love and support.

There was also an important lesson for me that I realized.

“Big Jack” taught me everything you need to know about be a leader. Yet he never wrote a book, did a TED Talk or spoke about leadership at conferences.

Because he didn’t need to.

He showed us all by the example he set every day. In how he treated everyone at work, at home and in his community.

In how he lived his life.


To sum it up in a word – belief.

Believe in yourself.

He built a very successful career as an advertising executive working his way up one of the top executives of Businessweek and Inc. magazines. Yet there were many times others did not believe in him.  He did not have an Ivy League education like many others at his level, yet he was not intimidated by their paper qualifications. He believed in hard work and determination. He challenged the “old boys” network at that time and never gave up on himself to settle where others though he should be.

He was a “disruptor” before disrupting was cool.

Belief in service to others.

He was never a “salesman” but was very successful at sales by listening to the needs of his customers and delivering results for them- not to them. This extended to his family life as a loving a devoted husband to his wife of 64 years and 5 children.  It even extended into his community. He volunteered his time often in his church and with Habitat For Humanity on a countless number of projects.

He never took himself too seriously and knew the true measure of his life was in what he did for others.

Belief in the possible.

“Big Jack” was the type of person who loved to do completely new and different things that he had never done before. Just for the heck of it, to challenge himself to learn and do something new.  Learn how to become a boater – check.  Take up painting – check.  Build houses – check. All with an incredible sense of humor, humility and the extraordinary ability to story tell about life and his adventures.

He was very creative and intrinsically knew the value of challenging yourself to grow in new ways.


What he taught me I will never forget.  The best part is that I did not have to buy a book or attend a seminar to do so.

Here is my advice and the important lesson I was reminded of which I believe applies to each of us.

Stop looking to externally for what it takes to be a leader.

The next big leadership “guru” or expert is not going to show you anything you don’t already know through the living examples of people in your life. They may remind you of what you what you already know.  Nothing wrong with that but they will not illuminate you with previously unknown secrets.

Leadership is how each of us show up every day in the “small things” which we too often take for granted.

You don’t need to spend lots of time with people to impact them. Never underestimate the interactions you have. Don’t try to be perfect, just try your best. Laugh. Love all. Make a difference. Do good.

I am sure there are people in your life who have done this for you. I am sure you already do this for others.

Whether you realize it or not….

“Big Jack” did for those who were lucky enough to know him.

And for those who did, we will be forever grateful.

Special thanks to my cousins John Cortissoz and Cathy Cortissoz for sharing the stories and photos of their father with me. He will live on through all that knew him.

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About the Author

Paul Cortissoz, CEO & founding partner of HR Soul has decades of senior level corporate HR experience in leading global organizations. Learn more about Paul Cortissoz's professional expertise and accomplishments.

John Cortissoz

I just read this again. Great job describing my dad. He was a special man. Thanks!

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