Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Son's Birth
When I first got married 5 years ago, my father-in-law and many other men told me The Number 1 Rule to always remember is “She is always right!” After all this time, I have to admit I don’t always take that advice even though I know I should. But last week, my wife went into labor and let me tell you: those words have never been more true! NEVER EVER! They were in fact the mantra that I chanted, mumbled and recited silently in my head; over and over again.
Now at work, since I’m typically in a leadership role, I kept thinking why is followership so easy for me right now? One obvious answer is the desire for self-preservation, which is strong in all men in this precarious situation. But as a social scientist I decided to challenge myself to see if there was more to it than that and what I could learn about leadership through this process. Here are some of the lessons I learned.
1. Leadership is Knowing When to Step Back Whether you are a husband, wife, CEO, Executive Assistant, NASA Astronaut, or just a consultant (like me); life demands that you play different roles at different times. My wife likes to be in charge as do I, but last week there was only 1 Boss and guess who it was NOT! A leader has to know when to step back and ask “how can I help you be successful?” If you are constantly trying to be the boss, you may miss a great opportunity to enable someone supremely more qualified to perform.
Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to get in the back seat even when you are used to driving!
2. Readiness Be prepared! Opportunities and challenges, alike, will find you whether you are ready or not. A leader has done enough pre-work that they can roll with the punches when they come, and they will come. My wife told me at 5 AM on Monday that her contractions were getting stronger and that we may need to leave soon. Yet on Tuesday at 11:16 AM, I was still at home waiting to leave for the hospital and writing the intro to this article. My bag was packed and in the car, my father-in-law on deck to care for my daughter should we leave, and I was ready whenever my wife said “GO!”
Bottom line: Be ready! Whether it takes a while or not, it is still going to happen!
3. Prioritize and Trust We all have a tendency to be self-important and think that what we have to do is critical to the world continuing to function. But guess what, it’s not! There’s nothing like a birth or death to bring that into perspective. Monday morning I cancelled my meetings for Monday and Tuesday, because I was having a baby. Tuesday afternoon I cancelled my meetings for Wednesday and put Thursday clients on alert, because I was having a baby. And to my surprise, it really was that easy. Men empathized with me and women thought it was great that I had my priorities straight. Not one person expressed annoyance with my disruption of their calendar.
Bottom Line: Trust that other people face similar situations in life and value the same things as you!
4. Focus on Process Improvement Always look to improve on your process. This is our second child and we learned some things the first time around. Since our first child came 3 weeks early and we were not very prepared; this time we have had a plan since a month before the due date. We know: the sequence of calls to make (depending on time of day), the route to the hospital (with appropriate contingencies for traffic), and what to expect during labor and delivery. We have family ready to jump in whenever the red alert call goes out. We even have back-ups to our back-ups. Leaders are constantly learning and revising their processes to improve on performance.
Bottom Line: One can always get better, so don’t just learn; strive to put those learnings into action!
5. Goals, Incentives and Motivation Obviously our Number 1 Goal was a healthy baby and a healthy and happy mommy. But what else? Including big sister was also a very high priority. How do you increase the likelihood that a 2 ½ year-old mommy’s girl will accept her baby brother and only slightly resent this new center of attention? Answer: I have no idea, but luckily my wife did. She made a personalized book 2 months ago about “Being a big sister” and we have read it to our daughter ever since. She also has a wonderful gift, wrapped in ‘Frozen’ paper, that baby brother will give to his big sis’ on the day he comes home. Leaders know what their team’s needs are and they stack the deck to ensure success.
Bottom Line: Focus on all your Goals and never accept that you can’t have them all.
TAKE AWAYS After 15 years as a consultant and Executive Coach, I am constantly surprised by how much there is still to learn! I draw inspiration from everywhere in my life and believe that all these experiences make me better for my clients, who inevitably push me forward with even more personal and professional growth. This week my wife gave me so many lessons in Leadership and I was a good enough follower to listen and learn. And my reward is a new baby boy. Our CEO delivered the goods, because I stayed out of her way!