Leadership Lessons from Parenting

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I really wanted to be a father. I looked forward to enjoying my children’s love while I guided them, flawlessly, to a life of joy and success. You can guess how that turned out.

My unrealistic hopes went out the window on day three. That’s when we realized our first child wasn’t going to sleep through the night. He was intent on using that time for screaming. Nothing I said worked. We tried tips and tricks gleaned from other parents and from books and magazine articles. One night, he just stopped screaming.

I don’t know why my son stopped screaming at night. I know that my desires didn’t matter. He screamed for his own baby-reasons. He stopped screaming for his own reasons. People I worked with did things for their own reasons, too.

Fatherhood was way harder than I expected, but I learned a lot about myself. And I learned some things that apply to leadership.

Influence is all you have.

No matter what you think, you have no power. This was never more horrifyingly obvious than when my older daughter went on her first date. When the door closed behind her, I knew suddenly and painfully, that I couldn’t do anything about what happened next. I had no power to keep her safe. I could only hope that my influence would affect her behavior.

Influence is powerful. They really do pay attention. It’s just against the rules for them to show it. One day I was walking toward the back of the house when I heard my son in his room, talking to a friend. “My dad says,” he began, and then repeated, word for word, some advice I gave to him.

It’s never just like the book says.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to be a great parent or a great leader. Some of it is good. Some of it is recklessly awful. But even the best advice is only a starting point.

You must adapt every bit of advice to your specific situation. You must act on it in your unique way. That makes every situation an experiment and a learning opportunity. With parenting and leadership, it’s mostly on-the-job training, learning from experience, trial and feedback.

It’s worth it.

Being a parent or being a leader is difficult. It’s scary to know that what you say and do influences and becomes part of the lives of others. Being a parent or being a leader is rewarding, though. At the end of the day or the end of your life, you’ve done something to change the world.


People do things for their own reasons.

Influence is all you have.

You must adapt every bit of advice to your specific situation.

You must apply advice and ideas in your unique way.

Being a parent or leader is difficult but worth it.

Your actions as a parent or leader change the world.

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