9 lessons from parenthood that will make you a better leader
The picture above is one of my all-time favorites. It was taken in 2005 on a Friday after work when my four children begged me to help them with a project outside. Eager to be done at the office, I willingly let them pull me to the backyard.
Now, if you’re like me, quality time with your young children after a long week of work entails reading a book, pushing them on the swing set or going for a walk. All of which I consider “low-key, high-payoff” relational activity.
As we walked into the yard, I received my instructions — help them color in every single brick in the patio with colored chalk. And the rules were set: Use every color. Do not have two bricks of the same color together. Every brick must be completely done. This was not the low-key activity I was hoping for.
When we completed the tedious project, this picture was taken. It now reminds me of that “sweet season” of my young family life. If I had gotten my way, this moment and my favorite picture would have been lost.
So, this started me thinking: What lessons have I learned from being a father that have helped me be a better leader? I came up with this list.
- Have a vision
There must be a philosophy or an operating system to your business — one that is driven and shaped by you. There is too much going on in life that can take you off course. Your business philosophy needs to be driven into the culture of your practice, just like it is in the culture of your home and family life.
- It’s OK if they don’t get it at first
One of my assistants is fond of telling me I have my Ph.D. in this business. She isn’t literally speaking of a degree but rather of my mastery over technical aspects of our profession and the operation of our practice. Here is an example: Have you ever had one of your staff tell you they can’t find a client file or a document only to have you discover it immediately? Similarly, there have been times when I have asked my son to get me a tool from the garage. Invariably, 10 minutes later, I’m showing him (again) where we keep everything. Don’t expect mastery in others when you have spent years or decades acquiring it.
I just celebrated 25 years in our profession. It’s important to revel in a significant achievement, but I would argue that acknowledging the smaller commitments can be more powerful. For example, I believe celebrating my daughter’s zealous late-night dedication to memorizing her lines in a play have esteemed her more than the standing ovation when the curtain drew to a close. In the office, we celebrate work anniversaries, but we also try to celebrate and acknowledge specific things done consistently well.
Our children teach us leadership lessons that reach far beyond our homes.
- Say sorry when necessary
Do you want your children to be apologetic? Or your staff to take ownership of a mistake? Then lead by example. Apologizing to a child or an employee (or a client!) is frightening because it submits your leadership to someone you’re supposed to be leading. While being contrite feels counterintuitive, it is an absolute necessity.
- Be gentle but firm
My second daughter had a bad habit of getting out of bed every night as a child. And it wasn’t a short-lived, get-out-of-bed once or twice habit either. It was several times every night for about a year. It required a level of gentleness and firmness I didn’t think I had available. We eventually won out. It was an extended lesson in drawing boundaries and sticking to them, gently.
- Let others be who they are
I heard someone declare, “I’m living proof that doing things my way works!” And there is a lot of truth in that statement despite it being an impractical leadership trait. Each of my four children has a different interest. Claire is my outgoing, funny band geek. Olivia is my overachieving theater geek. Dominic is the typical high school jock. And Victor runs with the class valedictorians. Embracing their differences has sharpened my leadership, so that I am not forcing a “my way” culture in my business or in the work I do with clients.
- Give individual attention
“Tell me I’m important” is an invisible sign each of us carries. As a parent, I had to learn to identify opportunities to give individual attention. A leader must also find ways to make clients and staff feel important, and I have found nothing works better than one-on-one time.
- Do things without expectation
How many times have you done something for your kid or spouse and weren’t thanked? What about for a client or staff member? Are you being kind, giving gifts or providing superb service just to be recognized? You shouldn’t be. A leader, just like a parent, must do the next right thing without expecting something in return.
- Be aware of how quickly time will pass by
If you’re not learning or innovating in your life, time will work against you. Our children, if we pay attention, teach us leadership lessons that reach far beyond our homes. They really are a gift.