What Being a Parent Has Taught Me About Leadership
Two years ago, my wife and I were blessed with not one, but two little bundles of joy. As they grow and develop, I am coming to believe that I am learning as much from them as they are from my wife and I. It got me to thinking about my job in HR, and how I have evolved as a professional and as a leader.
I started in HR out of college, as a young single guy. A few years later I met Kristi, we got married in 2010, and we had our kids in 2015. Throughout, I’ve had the same career. But as I look back, I have noticed that the seasons of my life can also be observed in my approach to my job. And where I am now as a parent of 2-year-old twins, I am fascinated at how it is actually making me a better HR Manager and leader.
Patience: When I meet someone for the first time, and I tell them what I do, they’ll often say something like “You must have the patience of a saint”. And my response is usually “Yes I do… now.” As leaders, our patience is often put to the test. Our team members are on a professional journey. As HR professionals and leaders, it’s our job to help them navigate that journey successfully. Praising them when they master a skill, or even make a solid effort. Being patient with them as they learn new skills and make mistakes. Offering support and encouragement when they experiencing challenges. Being there to coach and redirect them when you see they’re going down a bad path. And never forgetting that we were once in their shoes as new professionals.
The Shadow of the Leader: Like most of you, I learned this concept early in my career. And while I always believed it to be true, and did my best to operate accordingly, it took having kids to truly grasp its awesome power. Kids come into the world as a blank slate. Everything they are, know, and do is a result of the environment they live in. Parents are the front-line of shaping their understanding of the world and their place in it. Our kids will act according to what they see us doing, and what we allow them to do. Our teams are no different. I am constantly telling my managers that everything they do is seen. When team members exhibit undesirable behavior, sometimes it’s the leader’s fault.
Consistency: Every parent often feels like a recording, saying the same things over and over and over (and over) again. Just saying something once to a young child is about as effective as standing on the beach with your arms out and expecting to stop the tide from rising. It’s the same with our work teams. When they hear us say something once, they’ll listen but be naturally skeptical of it. The second time, they’ll start to think maybe there’s something to this. The third, fourth, thirteenth time, now it starts to shape their behaviors. And all of a sudden, it becomes part of the culture.
Manners Matter: Parents have authority over their kids, just like leaders have authority over their teams. They can pull rank anytime they want. But the good ones don’t have to. They respect their team members enough to tell them what they want and why it’s important. They communicate in a respectful tone, and say “please” and “thank you”. The magic comes when the team members then start to do the same to others that they interact with. By remembering our manners, and treating others with respect, we’ve silently but effectively communicated the expectation of how they are to handle our customers and their coworkers.