Leadership lessons my twin toddlers taught me
Once in a while (usually when Erwin’s 30,000 feet high), he’ll pen down his thoughts on parenting. Here he draws the parallels of his two roles (at home and at work) and I thought it’s worth sharing.
Most parents might agree - raising kids is one of the most rewarding yet challenging things we do in life, and every situation, day and stage looks different. Recently I found myself drawing parallels to the business world. Here are my thoughts on connecting my experiences bringing up our twin toddler girls with real life scenarios at work.
1. Motivation gets commitment
Toddlers minds are complex and unpredictable. What worked yesterday may not matter at all today. While they love to talk and share stories, reasoning has not fully kicked in, putting your 'managing via influence' skills to the test. Patience, humility and adapting to new situations are essential to achieve things together. A top-down instruction without buy-in of your toddler? Good luck to you :). In a business context, you may not get a response as open/candid as a 3 year old will give you but you should always take time to explain the rationale of your ask vs. giving limited guidance. Adapt your communication style, have others understand why you want things a certain way and how their contribution aids a larger objective or cause.
2. Spend time to understand
Be it with your children, team members or customers, it holds true that by spending time together, listening to needs/concerns, you will develop a much better understanding of who they are, what makes and drives them, and how can you help them. It's often not just about overt communication but also understanding other signals or body language. Often times, when we spend time with kids it's fairly unstructured - on the contrary for business, where we have very rigid agendas, talking points and expected outcomes. Leaving a little flexibility & time for a personal connect in the business world can go a long way in genuinely understanding what's going on, and what really drives people professionally and personally.
3. Little things matter
One thing that surprised me over the past year is how sharp our daughters' memories are and how much they remember little things. I got reminded what books I promised to read to them at night time, long after I initially mentioned it. The little ones look up to you, and it means the world to them if you meet these promises (or even exceed by throwing in another bedtime story). I told myself to never ever disappoint them on that. Toddlers also don't judge value too much. Some of their most prized possessions are an old, worn pink t-shirt and small books that are not even meant for children (strangely enough - a manual for my wife's digital camera, a book with just text - children's name suggestions). When looking at corporate environments, yes - money/financial incentives are important - but we tend to forget the power of a 'Thank You' or 'Job Well Done' to recognize great accomplishments. Everyone will always be pressed for time during big projects but it's important to ensure people feel appreciated and their contribution is recognized & no commitments being broken.
4. Don't corrupt
Many parents resort to screens as digital pacifiers, to enable a bit of calm throughout hectic days, outings or visits to restaurant. While toddlers may be calm over the course of a meal they don't know limits well and would request more and more screen time. Its hard to resist the easy way out. But by not letting these distractions creep in too much, kids learn how to entertain themselves in other ways - in many cases involving you as parent as well. Likewise, in the business world, it's imperative to stay true to good ethics and integrity when dealing with others. The easy way out/patching things up for the moment may solve things in the short term and get you a quick win but not address fundamentals or the root cause of a challenge. Offering the wrong incentives may also set false precedents and highly likely backfires on you at later stage.
The fact that toddlers are a little bit unpredictable, yet very genuine and completely uninhibited, not guarded with their feelings and moods makes them super authentic but also more challenging than most people we interact with in a business context. But we can also learn a whole lot from them for these very reasons, due to their openness and candid, immediate feedback on everything we do around them. I am in awe seeing our kids grow and develop, as well as teaching us parents new ways of looking at things almost everyday.
(P.S. Can’t get enough? Here’s one more from over a year ago on raising twins).