This piece was inspired by Jimmy Fallon’s final performance on Late Night, Ben Gilpin’s piece “Somebody to Lean On…” and Jay Harper’s (my late father) thoughts on umbrellas..

“Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me

The Band

If you are reading this then you most likely have some form of leadership role. You may be a teacher, a principal a parent, etc. And, since you have this role, you know what it feels like to carry a load. Furthermore, I am guessing that many of you don’t just carry your own load. I imagine that many of you help to carry the loads of others.

As leaders that is what we do. We make every effort to help to lighten the loads of those around us. And we do it often and we do it well. Simon Sinek eloquently articulated this point in his book Leaders Eat Last, that great leaders do in fact eat last.

But, as my dad worded it, sometimes in life “we need to put down the umbrella” and let others carry it. Just for a while. Just long enough for us to collect ourselves. It is ok, and it is what is right, because those we lead need us at our best. My father wrote this as he was dying of cancer. He was the type of person that would never pass the umbrella, no matter the cost to himself. It is a shame that it took cancer for him to learn this important life-lesson.

Passing the umbrella will not be easy because we are accustomed to serving others before we serve ourselves. It will not be easy because much of the reason why we are good at what we do is because we hold the umbrella so firmly and so often.

Yet, we must do this! If we expect to thrive and be at our best, then we must allow ourselves to lean on others as Ben Gilpin pointed out in his timely piece cited above. The folks we choose to lean on may be family members or they may be people we have never met. I have gained so much support from my PLN that I couldn’t begin to properly thank them all individually.

And see here is the thing, once others see that we are able to pass our umbrellas, then maybe they will begin to feel comfortable doing the same.

We must also teach the children we see everyday to pass their umbrellas from time to time. And if they don’t, then we need to gently take them from them. They need us to, whether they know it or not.

Many of them are required to hold their umbrellas all the time. Just this morning my wife told me about a child in her grade who has probably never had the chance to pass off his umbrella. She told me how his younger brother, who can be quite a handful at times, came to his class to borrow his coat for recess because he had forgotten his.

She said that the older brother pulled his little brother to the side and gently gave him a reminder about how to properly behave at recess so that he would not get into trouble. She said that it was quite interesting to witness since the older brother himself can be quite a handful also. Then it hit us. This child probably spends much of his time caring for his feisty, younger brother. He may not have ever had the chance to hand off the umbrella. Not even at school!

We as connected leaders need to begin to allow ourselves to hand off our umbrellas from time to time. And by doing so we will give those around us inspiration and permission to do the same.

“We few,

we happy few,

we band of brothers”

Shakespeare’s Henry V, 1598:

I am certain we can do this.

And I am certain that we must!


  1. Jon Harper, your awesome father Jay Harper would be so very proud of you! May “The Force” always be with you honey.
    Love you always,
    Diane and Steve

  2. What a poignant reminder about the beauty of being able to relinquish control and let others step up. As a new leader, I think this is one of the hardest but most important lessons to learn. Thanks for the gentle push, Jon.

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