Lessons Leaders Can Learn From Parents
At a recent conference, I got into a discussion on startup strategy with a group of young entrepreneurs. As the conversation died down, one of the entrepreneurs asked about Addie, my two-year-old daughter. With pride and newfound energy, I brought out a phone full of photos and shared tales of Addie’s exceptional talent — specifically, her dance skills.
One of the entrepreneurs made a comment that if I didn’t enroll Addie in dance classes as soon as possible, she’d never live up to her true potential — both in dance and in life. Another person disagreed, arguing that toddler martial arts were the key to confidence and success. This triggered a wave of rapid-fire suggestions for transforming Addie into “The Most Interesting Preschooler in the Midwest,” whether it was by taking Mandarin lessons, studying calligraphy, mastering orienteering, or playing football.
I interrupted the torrent of ideas to explain that Addie’s success isn’t contingent upon doing any one specific activity. The most important thing is for her to always be surrounded by good people — peers, teachers, and mentors — who will help her grow and thrive.
At that moment, the parallel between raising a kid and launching a business struck me: Isn’t leadership a form of parenting? The advice parents give to their kids is a source of wisdom that comes from experience — if it’s good enough for your child, it’s certainly good enough to lead a business.
Here are a few vital lessons I’ve learned as a father that directly correlate to my company’s success:
Follow the Golden Rule
If a child learns to treat others the way she wants to be treated, she’ll approach life with empathy, humility, and open-mindedness. This worldview generates respect, which in turn creates connections and opportunities.
The same is true in business. All too often, leaders treat people as a means to an end — a client is simply a revenue source, an employee just a unit of labor. But people are people, and even in the most cutthroat industries, the desire for respect is universal.
So be punctual. (And if you take it from one expert, being five minutes early is on time; being on time is late.) Be kind. Acknowledge our shared humanity. When you follow the Golden Rule, you create relationships that are both meaningful and productive.
Curiosity Unlocks Greatness
It says a lot about adulthood that we get annoyed by kids repeatedly asking, “Why?” The process of discovery is a source of delight and fulfillment. Physicist Richard Feynman called this “the pleasure of finding things out.” However, as we grow up, we’re taught to shelve our curiosities. Rather than asking questions, we’re rewarded for accepting the status quo.
Some of my best employees are those who initially didn’t have a lot of experience, but their natural curiosity drove them to consistently learn. Did they make a lot of mistakes along the way? Yes, absolutely. But they had a desire to learn and weren’t afraid to ask the right questions to be better.
I see the same curiosity in my daughter when she asks 100 questions in a day. Do I get mad or frustrated? No — it’s my beautiful daughter, and she’s just trying to learn. I see her growing into an intelligent, thoughtful person every day. I’ve tried to translate this as a view of my employees. Each one is valuable to the company; once you see the natural curiosity, embrace it. Help them get to where they need to be, just as I’ve done with my daughter.
A Love of Reading Instills Everything with Meaning
While I wasn’t always a fan of reading growing up (though a reading program rewarding students with pizza quickly changed that), reading is an integral part of my company’s culture. By investing time in books, blogs, and articles, we are constantly expanding our collective knowledge of business trends and philosophy. On an even deeper level, a shared love of reading brings the team together — both in what we do and with whom we work.
Obviously, parenthood is still a much different endeavor than leading a business. But consider the number of times you’ve referred to your startup or project as “your baby.” What would happen if you treated the business with similar love and care? What would change?
It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a team of dedicated people to create a successful company. Heed the wisdom of parents and your company will thrive.
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