When I was a kid I dreamt of doing great things, making a difference and having an impact in this world. I had the drive to conquer the world and the immaturity to hurt everyone around me while doing it. I was basically a self obsessed lunatic for most of my young adult and teenage life, just like the majority of teenagers in the world, I walked around thinking about myself all day long and acted accordingly. You could say I was not off to the best start at becoming a leader and making a difference and you would be 100% correct. So what changed? Besides finding Jesus (not that he was lost or anything), I got married and had kids! And lived happily ever after.. Hmm, sounds pretty dumb but you wouldn’t believe how many people actually think this is what happens. The truth is for the first time in your life you are not the most important person in the world, so you can either embrace it or fight it. The choice is yours but if you ever wish to be a great leader, I would choose option A.
Here are three things I learned from my kids that make me the CEO that I am today:
Example is everything: When I’m at home the phrase “Monkey see, monkey do” is never more evident. One day while I was in the garage unloading some things out of the back of my SUV, I decided to try and juggle everything in one hand while closing the door with my other hand. Usually this is no problem and I can complete this task like a pro but on this particular day my head was in the clouds and I shut the door on my fingers. The next few words out of my mouth were nothing I will be ever proud of but suffice to say they would not be included in a Disney movie. When I looked over, my child was standing there listening and ran off repeating my cute phrase over and over again for Mommy and the whole world to hear. Lesson learned, you never know when someone is listening, especially when they are 3 feet tall. Even if I accidentally (because I would never do this on purpose) burp, I know for the week the dinner table is going to become the burp Olympics for the kids. Translation; nothing we do goes unnoticed so be careful. Work is no different. If I start showing up late and leaving early, within a week my employees are doing the same thing. As a business owner I have to make sure I either open or close so I am showing an example of punctuality. If I make a crass comment while at work, yep, you guessed it, someone else will inevitably follow suit. The worst is when I get mad about a customer because all of a sudden everyone feels justified to vent their frustrations about a customer out loud and that brings moral and customer service down. So be careful because people are watching.
When things go wrong, encourage, don’t shout: My kids are amazing but inevitably they do things that make me want to tear my hair out. The other day one of my children spilled their drink on the table as soon as I sat down to eat. The first thing in my mind after a hard day’s work and cooking and serving and cleaning was not “Oh honey, that’s okay, Dada loves you and I know it was a mistake”… No, the first thing on my mind was “God, please, please, what did I do to deserve this?” This kind of thinking many times will inspire me to bark out a harsh or angry remark that in all honesty is completely undeserved. Sometimes I actually use my brain and decide to say something encouraging and deny my primal urges of frustration and the result is usually spectacular. When I encourage them and tell them I believe in them and they can do better next time, it is like watching a light bulb light up and the happiness for the rest of dinner is infectious. Employees are not much different; I am not saying if your employee continually screws up you should put up with it (see point three for more on this). I’m saying when an employee unintentionally screws up, instead of showing frustration and anger, or even just reprimanding them, make it a learning moment for them and for others in their department so that not only does the mistake not happen again but the employee feels grateful that you didn’t blow them up for an honest mistake. Fear works for a little while but loyalty works much better; I’d rather have loyal employees than fearful ones.
Say what you mean and mean what you say: When calling the kids to dinner, many times it can go like this “Kids, dinner’s ready, lets eat”, then you wait, and wait, and wait. Next you say it in a louder voice “KIDS! Come eat!” You may get an “Okay dad” but still nobody comes. At this point your frustration builds and you scream “KIDS!! COME EAT NOW OR YOU’RE ON TIME OUT/lose your video games/fill-in-your-own-threat” and amazingly the kids come running. What did I learn? That every kid has the ability to obey if the rules are clear, and that I need to mean what I say the first time, and that I need to enforce consequences before they become threats. If you don’t really mean what you say, even kids can tell, how much more adults? So when I’m at work I’m careful to never say anything I’m not willing to follow through on. If we have a rule and it’s broken, I have to take that employee aside and make sure it does not happen again with a warning or even a write up. If I have a sales rep and they don’t hit their number, I have to bring them in and talk to them or they wont be motivated to hit their number each and every month. I hate doing these things but not doing them in the past has caused me to lose the respect of my employees. If you don’t want to enforce certain rules, then don’t make them rules! Always be clear about what you expect out of your employees.
I can probably write a book about everything else I have learned about leadership from my kids. But for now, if you learn nothing else in life about what it takes to be someone who people would want to follow, then embrace these three things and you have already won half the battle.
By: Todd Marinshaw owns and operates a sportswear business based in Orlando, FL and recently founded iPrevail, a non profit organization focused on relief and rehabilitation for victims of disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan.