He often told people that he gave me my first real job, and in many ways he did. Almost exactly 28 years ago, I began my career in higher education when I started working for Dr. Roger Eichhorn, the dean of the Cullen College of Engineering at University of Houston on May 15. He died Monday from a massive heart attack and the minute I read the notice from his former secretary, I began to cry. Roger had that effect on people.
Roger taught me about leadership:
- It is not perfect
- It is not impersonal or detached
- It is about standing up for those on your team
- It is about letting people grow through mistakes and successes
- It requires a special humility to share credit, move outside of comfort zones, and learn new things
- It is best delivered authentically, without façade or pretense
I was fortunate enough to visit with him a couple of times over the past couple of months. I used those times to learn more about him, his life, his story. A fascinating man with a wonderful life. I was blessed to learn so much about the man who was my boss and became my true friend.
When the time came for me to leave UH after seven years, I asked his opinion about the job offer that I had. I said, “Roger, you are the closest thing to a dad that I have anymore and I need your insights…” (my dad had died a dozen years before). It takes a special boss to earn that position (see the six items above).
It would be easy to turn this column into a 10,000-word story about working with and for Roger. But mostly, it would be about the boss who became my friend. He was much more than the man who led me to a new, 27-year career. He is part of many of the presentations that I conduct now about leadership and management. He was surprised when I told him that a couple of months ago.
I miss you already, Roger. Thank you for all that you taught me, entrusted in me, shared with me and expected of me. Love you.
Dean Eichhorn was always ready to help students succeed. I have a great photo of him as a Frontier Fiesta Cook-off Judge. He went beyond the norm to be there for students. But he also knew how to connect with donors in a way that would help students. As holder of the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Dean’s Chair for the Cullen College of Engineering, he and Elizabeth often met on how to make the college better for all. I will miss this “Bridge-Builder” a lot.