Feb 142010

Parenting and Corporate Leadership

Parenting and Corporate Leadership

Let me be clear up front:  I do not think of my colleagues at Return Path as children, and I do not think of Casey, Wilson, and Elyse as employees.  That said, after a couple weeks of good quality family time in January, I was struck by the realization that being a CEO for a long time before having kids has made me a better parent…and I think being a new parent the last three years has made me a better CEO. 

Here's why.  The two roles have a heavy overlap in required core interpersonal competencies.  And doing both of them well means you're practicing those competencies twice as many hours in a week than just doing one – and in different settings.  It's like cross training.  In no order, the cross-over competencies I can think of are…

Decisiveness.  Be wishy washy at work, and the team can get stuck in a holding pattern.  Be wishy washy with kids, they run their agenda, not yours.

Listening.  As my friend Anita says, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Listening to your team at work, and also listening for what's not being said, is the best way to understand what's going on in your organization.  Kids need to be heard as well.  The best way to teach good verbal communication skills is to ask questions and then listen actively and attentively to the responses.

Focus.  Basically, no one benefits from multitasking, even if it feels like a more efficient way of working.  Anyone you're spending time with, whether professionally or at home, deserves your full attention. The reality is that the human brain is full of entropy anyway, so even a focused conversation, meeting, or play time, is somehow compromised.  Actually doing other activities at the same time destroys the human connection.

Patience.  For the most part, steering people to draw their own conclusions about things at work is key.  Even if it takes longer than just telling them what to do, it produces better results.  With kids, patience takes on a whole new meaning, but giving them space to work through issues and scenarios on their own, while hard, clearly fosters independence.

Alignment.  If you and your senior staff disagree about something, cross-communication confuses the team.  If you and your spouse aren't on the same page about something, watch those kids play the two of you off each other.  A united front at the top is key!

I'm sure there are others…but these are the main things that jump to mind.  And of course one can be great in one area without being in the other area at all, or without being great in it.  Are you a parent and a business leader?  What do you think?

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