Being a father is the most difficult thing I have ever done; and the most rewarding. – John Liesen
Polar Dynamics of Parenting
As a father of four the last seven years have provided me plenty of opportunities to experience the paradox of parenting. When a child is young they are not capable of understanding what you need them to do. As they grow this same child learns to communicate and exercise their will. It is at this point they learn that they have a choice on whether or not to listen. In my opinion, having a child choose to not listen is one of the most frustrating challenges I have experienced. It is in the midst of this frustration; however, that I have encountered some of my greatest joys. Therein lies the paradox of parenting.
This past week I took some time to reflect on the joys and frustrations of being a father. I quickly realized that one of the best parts of parenting is not found in the moments I spend teaching my children, but in those where they teach me. I wanted to share the following 10 insights I have gained from my children which I feel are applicable in leadership.
- Passion – Observing my two-year old throughout the day has given me a glimpse into passion. From the moment he wakes up until he goes to sleep his mind is consumed with one question: “What’s for dinner?” This is such an important question for him that my answer can bring joy or tears. As you search for your passion ask yourself what consumes your thoughts, makes you happy, or makes you cry.
- Perspective – As I approach a railroad crossing and see flashing red lights I instinctively check my clock and worry whether or not I am going to be late. Then the train horn sounds and all of my kids yell with excitement as we start counting the cars. As our count increases their excitement increases and I am no longer thinking about running late. Their excitement changes my perspective from the stress of running late to the enjoyment of a moment with my children. It reminds me that when I am feeling overwhelmed I should take a step back, change my perspective, and count the “train cars”.
- Patience – My oldest loves to help take care of his younger siblings. When the baby is crying he makes silly noises and goofy faces to help put a smile on the baby’s face. This is usually enough, but if it does not work he keeps trying. For a six-year old he has endless patience with his youngest brother and ultimately it helps him prevail. Similarly at work when faced with a stubborn project or a road block your patience may be the key to prevailing.
- Playfulness – My daughter has two speeds: slow and slower. This morning we asked her to get ready for the day and I found her rolling across the floor to get to her room. Whenever I ask her to do something, she takes longer than I expect because she finds ways to add enjoyment to even the most mundane chores. She shows me that a touch of playfulness is worth the time invested. As you look at your daily agenda, where can you add in some time to play or celebrate?
- Priorities – As I mentioned when talking about passion, my middle son loves food. He is also learning that he has the will to choose which foods he wants to eat. One night he decided to exercise his ability to choose and decided not to eat his broccoli. This choice meant I had to remind him that in order to eat something fun he must eat what is best for him first. Quickly, he decided that finishing his vegetables was his #1 priority in hopes of getting a treat. Sometimes I choose the fun tasks on my to-do list over those that are best for my job or team. I am reminded that I can not simply do the easy tasks but also need to prioritize the difficult and important ones if I want a healthy team.
- Perseverance – My oldest loves to play with Legos but gets frustrated when it takes too long to find a specific piece. When he asks for our help we send him back to look again and eventually he finds it. When a project meets resistance it is easy to be frustrated and want to give up or pass off the difficult task to someone else. However, just like my son gets a sense of pride in building his Lego set on his own, your perseverance through resistance often leads to an accomplishment that will make you smile.
- Persuasion – I was helping clean up around the house last week when the batteries on one of my daughter’s toys ran out. When she asked if I could change them I told her that it would have to wait until I finished. I felt like I presented a logical argument, but as she tried to hold back her tears all logic went out the window. In that moment, my daughter taught me that most often persuasion is not a matter of logic, but relationship. When you enter into a negotiation you must prepare a solid argument, but if you overlook the relationship you may risk an insult that could sabotage the deal.
- People – I prefer smaller groups to larger crowds because I find small talk in a crowded area to be tedious. My six-year old, however, has never met a stranger and is very comfortable talking in a crowd because he prioritizes his curiosity about the other person over his own comfort. From his curiosity, I have learned that in order to show how much you value someone you need to set aside any discomfort and show interest in that person.
- Presence – When I am not giving my children my full attention they do anything they can to get it. This may mean they get “eyeball-to-eyeball” with me or they may act out. Whatever their method, it is their way to show me that I am not engaging with them and I need to stop what I am working on and give them my full attention. We owe our teams the same kind of engagement that my children demand. Your team may not say anything, but if you are in a meeting with your team and focused on another project you are wasting your time and theirs.
- Planning – Each morning my oldest two children spend their first 10 minutes of the day quizzing my wife and I about the plan for the day. We have learned that providing a solid plan for them gives them some structure as they visualize their day. Even when the plan changes they are more adaptable because they can visualize the changes in context of the original plan. When you do not have solid information the tendency is to hold onto information, but when you do not create or publish a plan you allow your team’s imagination to fill in the gaps. Providing a plan early helps your team to visualize the project and gives them context when changes occur.
What is the most impactful lesson you have learned from parenting, or from a child?