It was an unusual June day in Phoenix. Typically that time of year the heat should be oppressive and the intensity of the sun unbearable. Yet on this day, the sun was veiled by clouds and the breeze carried with it a slight coolness. I, however, was sitting in the driver's seat of my car, sweating profusely. It wasn't the heat that caused me to do so, it was fear. I was terrified. I didn't feel ready to take on this responsibility, I had not received any formal training, and I had no idea what I was doing.
Yet on this day, the sun was veiled by clouds and the breeze carried with it a slight coolness.
It was only a short drive, no more than a few miles. Somehow, every car I saw I viewed as a threat. I scanned my mirrors with an OCD-like frequency. This responsibility was too much. I had no idea when I signed on that it would be so scary, and it was only my first few hours on the job. I again glanced in the rearview mirror. This time, my eyes were met by my wife's sitting in the back seat. I saw in her eyes both calmness and confidence. She had this even if I did not. Next to her in a car seat, the installation of which I inspected at least 600 times prior to its first use, was our newborn daughter.
I saw in her eyes both calmness and confidence. She had this even if I did not.
A mere 24-hours earlier, we were just this naive and carefree couple. Yes, we were having a kid, but that didn't seem like such a big deal. Now, a street that I had driven mindlessly hundreds of times before was the scariest stretch of road I had ever traversed. That carefree couple was gone. In its place were two very young people, one of whom was scared to death. Ready or not, we were parents!
Now, a street that I had driven mindlessly hundreds of times before was the scariest stretch of road I had ever traversed.
That was 23 years ago, and that little bundle of terror was joined two years later by daughter number two, and four years after that, our son arrived. The fear that gripped me that odd June day as I sat in the car, never has completely gone away. It's tempered and is no longer paralyzing, but it has mutated into worry. The kids are all great. Their lives are on positive trajectories. They make good decisions, are compassionate and kind, and have good friends and healthy relationships. They remain connected to each other and to us. Life is good, but that doesn't stop the worry.
The fear that gripped me that odd June day as I sat in the car, never has completely gone away.
I recognize now that so many of the lessons I have learned about leadership have come to me through my experiences as a parent. I don't think I saw that clearly until recently. I approach both roles in much the same manner, and the effect on me has a similar manifestation. Let me try to explain.
I care for the business and its results, and I care about the people.
As a parent and as a business leader, it starts with love. Maybe on the business side a better word would be “care”. I care for the business and its results, and I care about the people. Like being a parent, in my opinion, an effective leader places service above self. Both are forms of servant leadership. The next step is to actually lead. As a parent and in business, you have to help others see the potential that they do not yet recognize in themselves. You have to help provide the early vision, allowing them to see where it is they need to go and help them to understand how they might get there. Then comes the really tough part. You have to let go! This is the messiest stage. But, if you want your kids or the people on your team to succeed, you must first give them the room to fail. There is no doubt that you will be met with the tears that greet an unrequited love, or be faced with a deal that falls through. This is where it comes back to the love/care aspect of leadership. You simply need to help them dust themselves off, help them understand what went wrong, and then send them back on their way.
Then comes the really tough part. You have to let go! This is the messiest stage.
This brings me to the similar way that parenting and leadership affect me. It is that damn constant worry. It is like a shadow, it follows me everywhere. As much as I would welcome its departure, I know it won't leave, and I am not sure it should. When you care deeply about someone or something, and then let go, all you are left with is the worry that you did enough. I am okay with that. It is a burden I will accept for the joy of parenthood and the honor of leadership.
Are you a leadership nerd?
Join the Integrative Leader’s Book Club. Each month we pick a thought provoking book to read and discuss. This month we are reading “Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel Pink.
Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief and Linked2Leadership. He serves as a thinking partner, providing clients with the clarity, focus, and tools needed to make good people and product decisions. He helps clients build lasting relationships with their customers, develop leaders who make others feel heard, cared for, valued and respected, and most importantly grow.
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