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So much of who we are is shaped by our parents: how we behave, what interests us, how we treat others, the way we carry ourselves in the world, etc. Because kids see their parents in a variety of leadership roles throughout their most malleable seasons, the impact a parent can have on their children is exponential, and it increases and takes new shapes as kids grow and mature.
I’ve had the privilege of learning from my father in his many roles in my life—a soccer coach, a financial advisor, a musical director, a golf teacher, and a referee for my siblings and me. Now as an adult and a leader in my workplace, I see how the way he parented has had a remarkable impact on my leadership style.
Here are three lessons I learned from my dad that I try to emulate as a leader.
1. Advocate for your people.
My dad advocated for my siblings and me all the time, but not in an overbearing, helicopter-parent kind of way that has become a norm today. He coached us to stand up for ourselves and take responsibility for our actions, and made it possible for us to engage in the activities that were a match for our talents and gifts. He was and still is our biggest fan, and he did everything he could to make sure we knew it.
The same concept should be applied by leaders. Be on your team’s side. Vie for their success. Speak to them with honesty and candidness to help them improve. And most importantly, don’t ever let them feel like they're on their own. Give them autonomy and responsibility, but with the knowledge that if they fail, you’ll be there for them. Like Simon Sinek says, “Employees represent an opportunity to inspire, not a burden to carry.” View advocating for your team members as a chance to elevate them, not as an assignment of leadership.
2. Set the vision for future growth.
There’s a difference between seeing vision as a parent and setting vision as a leader. Parents see what could be for their kids and choose the critical moments to share their thoughts and observations with their children. When I graduated college, I (like many new grads) was extraordinarily conflicted about where to go with my career. All I wanted was for someone wiser than me to say, “This is the perfect job for you.” When I asked my dad to essentially do just that, he refused to give me a direct answer. But he did ask me extremely pointed questions about my talents, passions, hopes and fears, and helped me come to conclusions on my own that he had surely already reached after watching me grow and mature for 21 years. Choosing the moments to reveal the future you can envision for your kids is a crucial piece of parenting.
The difference for the leader is that it is your responsibility not only to see what could be for your team and organization, but also do everything in your power to communicate it all the time, with the utmost clarity. “Casting a convincing vision once is not enough to make it stick. Twice isn’t enough, either,” says Andy Stanley. “Vision needs to be repeated regularly.” In both instances (as parent and leader), it’s important to be perceptive and observant to see the time and place for repeating or clarifying the vision.
3. Give trust freely until it’s broken; don’t make them earn it.
This one is all about empowerment. As a daughter, having my dad’s trust to explore, change and learn, all within the boundaries that he set for my safety and growth, allowed me to feel empowered and autonomous to be creative and independent. I never felt like I had to prove my worth or value in order to have the chance to be exploratory or creative.
As a leader, I try to operate the same way with my team members. I want them to know they have my trust implicitly, so they are empowered to push boundaries and solve problems. If a situation arises where that trust is lost, we’ll cross that bridge. But an environment where an employee feels like they have to spend a year, or two or five, earning the trust of their boss only slows progress and innovation. My favorite explanation of this comes from Craig Groeschel on his podcast episode about empowering employees. He says:
“How do we know if we can trust someone? The best way to find out if we can trust them is to actually trust them… Clarity without trust produces fear and inaction. If we tell them, ‘This is what I want you to do,’ but we don't trust them, they're afraid of failure and they won't innovate… What does trust do? Trust is the necessary net that results in risk-taking.”
I’ve had the good fortune of having a father (and two grandfathers) who set the example of excellent leadership in my life. Not everyone has the chance to learn these lessons from their fathers. And while I’m aware of how fortunate that makes me, it’s edifying to know that these leadership lessons are being applied everyday in companies, nonprofits and, perhaps most importantly, communities around the world.
Happy Father’s Day to all those celebrating!