I have always joked that I have four kids – two Homo sapiens and two companies. While all of them have contributed to the rapid proliferation of my gray hair in recent years, I didn’t realize until recently how complementary these two roles have been. Parenting has influenced my leadership, and vice versa. I have learned a great deal from each role, which has made me both a better leader and a better father (or so I hope). Here are five parallels I have noticed:
1. Let ‘em fall (or fail).
As parents, my wife and I have always believed in not protecting our kids from getting hurt. In fact, we have always encouraged them to run, play, explore, and do new things. We knew they would fall, but we also knew they would come out stronger. In their studies, we have followed the non-conventional wisdom of incentivizing learning, not grades. We are trying, and still struggling, to let them explore and focus on their strengths, rather than linger on their weaknesses.
Encouraging exploration leads to failure and thereby maximizes opportunity and resilience. Tweet This Quote
Similarly, in a startup, we know little about our environment starting out. Encouraging exploration leads to failure and thereby maximizes opportunity and resilience. At Jeeon, I have tried to incentivize my team to take risks or try new approaches, allowing them to venture into the unknown and often fail. In fact, we have made “Celebrating Failure” a core value of the company. We assign tasks to people based on their interests just as much as on the needs of the organization, and we have kept it flexible so that they can explore beyond the immediate confines of their job description. We believe this has made Jeeon a better place to work, and it’s allowed our people to grow faster than in other companies.
2. Keep your cool.
Parenting is full of surprises (and sometimes nasty ones, like a poop disaster while in a bus on vacation in a foreign land at 4 in the morning, scrambling on the floor to clean up the mess before it wakes up other passengers — you can’t make that $h#t up). It’s important to take a deep breath and maintain your sanity during these times, not only because it helps you make better thought-out decisions, but also because your children learn not to panic and to be better crisis managers from you.
If you don’t keep your cool in trying moments, you fail on damage control and setting an example. Tweet This Quote
If there is any place that can compete with parenthood on facing surprises, it is probably a startup. More often than you signed up for, $h#t will indeed hit the fan! Unless you can keep your cool in those trying moments, you fail on the same two fronts — damage control and setting an example.
3. Be intentional about values and culture.
While watching my parents as a child, I learned that if they did not behave the way they were preaching, it was pointless. As a parent, I always ask myself twice before dispensing any word of advice or wisdom. I know that if I don’t excel at those very same things, my kids simply won’t turn out the way I would like them to. So my four years of parenthood have been more of a constant fight within myself to act and behave in accordance with the values I want to instill in my children.
For example, I have tried to break my screen addiction and respond to my children’s question the first time with eye contact. By doing this, I believe they will return the same behavior in kind when they turn thirteen (I also pray they won’t already have virtual reality brain implants by then).
What you do will influence your company much more than what you say. Tweet This Quote
In a startup, you as the founder or CEO, in addition to other top executives, are the role models. What you do will influence your company much more than what you say. If you are the kind of CEO who likes to be intentional about culture (what kind of CEO are you if you don’t?), you should determine what behaviors you would like to see in your team and lead by example consistently and unfailingly. If you want to make professionalism a value, show up for every meeting on the second. If you would like your team to give feedback directly, first learn how to receive criticism with an open mind.
4. Nurture curiosity.
I have always admired and been in awe of how children have the natural abilities of being curious, withholding premature judgment, asking questions, and being open to any answer. As we grow up, we stifle this curiosity with our regimented education and discouragement of “silly questions.” My parenting philosophy has instead been to encourage questioning and try to refrain from providing direct, black-and-white answers. I want to teach my kids how to figure out the answers themselves.
In a startup’s uncertain environment, curiosity and openness are priceless treasures. Tweet This Quote
In a startup’s uncertain environment, curiosity and openness are priceless treasures. Not coming to conclusions prematurely affords you the time and the opportunity to learn, iterate, and adapt. Consequently, it can spell the difference between success and failure. As CEOs (most of us are egomaniacs, let’s be honest with ourselves here) we often tend to unwisely use our past experiences to prescribe solutions when faced with a problem. That is exactly the antithesis of curiosity.
Instead, don’t be afraid to tell your team you don’t know the answer. Tell them you trust they will figure out the course and that you will be there in their journey through uncertainty. Help them ask questions, and direct them to where they can find the answers.
5. Be consistent.
They say rules are meant to be broken, but I bet whoever came up with that nugget of wisdom was not the founder of a company — or a recent parent. Whether you are a deterministic parent and leader, or a democratic one who likes to create rules with your children or team, it is equally important to be consistent once you set them.
If your child can brush their teeth on some nights and not on others if they don’t feel like it, soon they will be too tired for it every night. If you want to build a safe workplace for women, make an example out of even minor transgressions, or else misogyny will creep into your culture before you can blink.
Don’t be afraid to tell your team you don’t know the answer. Tweet This Quote
There are many more parallels I can think of, but here I wanted to identify my top five. I would love to hear what others have learned in the comments below.