“Parents are the ultimate role models for children. Every word, movement and action has an effect. No other person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than the parent.” – Bob Keeshan, Children Television producer and actor
Dads, the World’s Greatest Leaders?
While Father’s Day is celebrated on different dates around the world, here in the US, and many European countries, the third Sunday in June is when we take a moment to show dads a little love and recognition. Thinking about my own dad and being a dad myself, I took a few moments to think about this role and realized that I often do not live up to my own expectations. Maybe it is just how I view this role, but as an expert and speaking around the world on leadership, I can’t help but wonder if, as a dad, I am too focused on my management role and not giving enough attention to what my kids really need—a good leader. Allow me to explain:
First, there is a difference between managers and leaders. While there are plenty of managers in the world as a result of a title they were given, there are much fewer leaders. While managers are often focused on running a good operation, planning, organizing, and getting things done, leaders focus on getting things done through others. Now, don’t get me wrong; these management tasks are important, just like a dad’s role in planning, organizing, and providing for his family. However, good managers demonstrate their leadership abilities by inspiring the hearts and minds of others to be their best and to want to do what the manager wants them to do. Similarly to managers, there are plenty of dads in this world—a title given because they are physically related to their children. But you have to wonder how many of them are actual leaders, working through their children, inspiring them to be their best, and getting their children to want to do what their father wants them to do rather than just using their title of “dad.” So, as I work on my own leadership abilities with my kids, here are a few things that I, and probably a lot of other dads, could be better at so that we can be leaders for our kids:
Enable them to be successful but empower them to make their own decisions. I think we all innately want the best for our kids and are willing to make sacrifices to get them the things they need to be successful in life. We work hard to ensure they have a roof over their heads, good food, cool clothes, and attend the right school, which by our own reasoning should give them the right foundation in life. We also try to impart some advice or insights that will help them along their journey. All of this is what a leader does to enable their team—get them the right training, tools, and information to do their job well. Now comes the hard part—leaders then get out of the way and avoid micro-managing their employees. Leaders allow their employees to make decisions, providing support when things go wrong, and some level of coaching to be better in the future. As dads, what do we do? We try to control everything. We do it with the best intentions, but we need to understand that one of the best things we can do for our kids is to allow them to make their own choices and, even worse, fail. We all know that the best lessons we ever learned were when we failed at something. Yet, it is really difficult for us to let go and allow our kids to fail. The younger they are, the better it is for them to fail, so why not let them be late for school or a sports game, let them have the wrong clothes for a sleep-over or sports equipment for a game, and have them feel the effects of not eating properly or getting to bed on time? We only have a few years to set them up for this crazy world, so where better to fail than at home?
Always be available, but more importantly, always be approachable. We never know when our kids need us but, for the most part, I think we would all agree that they can come to us with anything at any time. Coming to us at any time isn’t the issue, but coming to us with anything is, or at least appears to be. Great leaders are there when they are needed, and their employees feel that they can approach their leader with anything, including bad news, without freaking out. If a manager gets upset every time an employee brings them bad news, then the employees will stop bringing them bad news, which could seriously impact the business. The same goes for our kids. I admit that I am not good at this; I get upset when my kids make mistakes, not because they made a mistake, but more because I should have helped them avoid it. But I, like many of you, need to realize that if our kids stop bringing us bad news, their mistakes, and their problems, then how can we be good dads when we are really needed? To be a good leader and a good dad, we must ensure we are approachable and that they bring us all their news and information, no matter how bad. So, let’s stop freaking out over the small stuff.
Listen, just listen. If we are available and approachable, then we need to be a good listener. Listening—truly listening rather than trying to come up with answers or thinking about what to say next— is one of those things many of us do not do well. Good leaders understand that listening is a critical skill and gift. They also know that you cannot listen while completing other tasks or focusing on technology. Leaders put everything aside, and focus on what is being said, trying to understand the other person’s perspective and situation. How many times have you told your kids that you are listening while fixing something, watching TV, or replying to an email or text? Employees recognize these acts as disrespectful, and your kids will do the same (eventually). So, consider what we advise a lot of leaders—establish time throughout your day when you can be available and willing to put down the technology and listen. Set time aside in your day or week when it’s just you and your kids, and you are only there to listen. We try to ensure no technology at the dinner table, or with any meal, whether at home or in a restaurant, so we have at least some uninterrupted time to listen. Your kids might think you’re a little weird in the beginning, but this is one habit that you will be glad you mastered.
Give a lot of respect and recognition. Great leaders demonstrate a lot of respect and recognition to their people—two things that are always at the top of an employee’s wish list, hoping their manager would do more often. The definition of respect is found in the Latin word Respectus, which means “to look back at” or “have consideration for.” When it comes to respecting others, people just want to be seen and recognized for what they do or do well. Unfortunately, many employees tell us that the only time they hear from their manager is when things go wrong or when they get in trouble. Ask yourself if you do the same with your kids. It’s easy to point out what your kids do wrong, but, as a leader, you can balance this by having consideration for and telling your kids all the things that they do right, what potential and strengths you see in them, and congratulating them when they put in real effort. By seeing the best in your kids, you can help them develop those strengths into something truly great, rather than spending all their time fixing their faults to be something average.
Have tough conversations. The best leaders I know are not afraid to have tough conversations. We see too much employee behavior going unchecked by managers and being passed off to HR. As dads, we must be careful not to avoid having tough conversations with our kids or passing them off to the family HR manager (commonly known as “mum”). A common misunderstanding is that leaders are soft and too focused on the soft stuff. Leaders are focused on results, but they do it differently. If someone is not doing things the right way, leaders quickly step in with some tough love, respectfully explaining why some behavior must change or evolve. One of my favorite quotes is from Napoleon Bonaparte, who described using “an iron hand with a velvet glove” when dealing with poor performers. This tactic advocates firmness made more palatable and effective through courtesy and respect. There are times when a reality check is necessary, and honesty is required. Pointing out that manners are missing or behaviors are unacceptable or are categorized as being a “butthead” (my PG-term with my kids) is not only necessary but an important part of being a good leader and a good dad.
Get to know what they love to do, not what you hope they love to do. Good leaders show their employees that they care by getting to know what is important to them away from the job. They know what their employees love or are most grateful for in this world. Dads need to do the same, which means knowing what is most important to your kids, not what you wish was most important to them. I wish my kids loved our family, healthy foods, played sports I enjoyed, followed my teams, and were grateful for school. In reality, at certain times, their friends take precedence, school can be tough and some subjects a little boring, vegetables just aren’t that tasty when compared to their favorite snacks, and there are plenty of other things in this world other than sports that people engage with. And, just maybe, my sports teams aren’t exactly worth rooting for right now (Even I admit having a hard time loving the Lakers, Raiders, and USC football right now, so why should I expect my kids to love them, too?). Great leaders surround themselves with people who are different, have diverse views and backgrounds, and are willing to challenge their opinions. Dads, let’s not focus so much on trying to create miniature versions of ourselves; rather, let’s encourage our kids to be the best version of themselves and help them find their own loves.
Show some humility. I have worked with some great leaders and was continuously impressed with their humility. They used the phrase (which I think all dads should use more often), “Sorry, I was wrong.” I have tried it with my kids, and it might be some of the best words you can use that they like to hear. We are not perfect, and honestly, most leaders are not perfect either, so let’s stop acting like we have it all worked out, especially with our kids.
So, there you have it; this Father’s Day, I am committing to be a better leader to my kids, and I urge you to as well. It won’t be easy, but the best things in life never are. Good luck and happy Father’s Day.