LESSONS FROM THE LIVING ROOM: Leadership Lessons Learned From Parenting
I learned a few leadership lessons from my living room in 2020 – where I raised my nine-year-old daughter as I worked alongside her – that other executives might find useful in their careers.
2020 was a year of many firsts for almost all of us. For me, it was my first year as a first-time CEO. Less than 75 days after my appointment, New York City was under stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic. My experience in the much-vaunted C-Suite soon overlapped with math class, peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and afternoon fencing lessons (where I worked from my second office, aka “the car”).
Yet, through my all-day, every day, hands-on parenting, I discovered how so many traits – like patience and positivity, resiliency and consistency, flexibility and adaptability – straddle one’s professional world and family life.
The parallels between successfully running a company and parenting are uncanny. I barely had the opportunity to meet my staff, and now I was communicating, collaborating, and leading a talented team of 25 people solely online. So, for every young executive who fears parenting will break their stride, it’s the opposite. Through parenting, your leadership traits can be strengthened. Here’s what I’ve learned:
You wear many hats
Ah, parenting! In the span of a few hours, you’re pulling out a deep splinter (“It really hurts!”), checking that they’ve finished their homework (“Have you even started your homework?” is a daily question in our household), planning meals for next week, buying new clothes since they don’t stop growing, and then chauffeuring to a fencing competition. As a CEO, you pivot from leading an All Hands, to revisiting the vision for your company, to talking with a Board member, to negotiating with a digital partner, to debating the results of an RFP. As a parent and a CEO, you’ll wear many hats and you need to learn to quickly switch between. This builds the traits of adaptability and flexibility, and both will help you wear the hat you need, when you need it.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Expect to repeat yourself many times a day as both an executive and as a parent. Both roles will go easier if you, not only accept repetition as an essential part of leadership, but embrace it. Prior to having a child, my patience was sorely tested by repetition. I now welcome it as a vital technique for reinforcing a core set of values, ensuring my team knows our priorities, and cultivating patience in myself and others.
Repetition again (but backwards)
You can also “reverse repetition” to speed up the learning curve. When my daughter doesn’t seem to be paying attention, I ask her to repeat back what I just said to her. This ensures that she and I have the same understanding of my expectations. This is especially important because different people absorb information in different ways. What’s clear and obvious to the speaker isn’t necessarily clear and obvious to the listener. This technique is particularly helpful in a team dynamic. Beyond operating from a common understanding, it creates a welcoming atmosphere where people feel comfortable asking questions.
Ask for solutions before offering one
Any seasoned parent knows that empowering your child makes parenting infinitely easier than micro-managing them. We also know that sometimes it’s just easier to do or instruct rather than teach or supervise. But taking the time to ask: “How would you solve this?” is a key strategy for empowering those around you. Ask your team for solutions and only offer guidance when and where it’s needed. When you take the time to ask and engage in this way, your own patience, flexibility, and adaptability become stronger.
Carrot and stick (or broccoli before ice cream)
We work better with incentives. This applies to everyone, whether kids pushing their veggies around their plates or adults (myself included) facing daunting tasks. Find ways to tap into an individual’s motivation. This is especially effective when you have ambitious goals or in “getting to done” on complicated projects.
Learn the art of stillness
Life is a flurry of activity. We’re constantly shifting our mindset between team meetings, solving for after school, client calls, and then scheduling for play dates—basically a never-ending list of tasks. It’s not surprising that we slide into a mindset of “go, go, go.” But what about taking a moment? We all want to achieve more, but stillness is important for listening, learning and growing. Do you think my daughter gets more value in 30 minutes of screen time or in drawing and letting her mind wander? Long-term value is not built on the altar of immediacy. Deadlines are important. Impact is important. Getting things done is important. But moments of mindfulness will supercharge your superpower.
Set high standards (for myself, my team, and my daughter)
The most important lesson I’ve learned as a parent, and a good human being, is to be honest with yourself and others. You have to lead by example. Be the kind of person you want your kids to be. Be the kind of person you want in your organization.
You’re operating on two hours of sleep, you’re already on your third cup of coffee, and you’ve still got a full day ahead. It’s in these moments that the mantra of “Be positive and have fun” can be daunting. As a parent and as an executive, we need to make each day count, even if we’re tired and frazzled. The more you embrace this philosophy, the easier it becomes to walk this path. It can then become as habitual as brushing your teeth – “By the way, did you brush your teeth?” – that we’re present for the fun times, the quality times, and even the down times. We can enjoy the ride, whether in the office or in the living room.
Written by Jeremy Sirota.
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