Updated: May 11
There’s a plethora of leadership and management training available; much of it is very good indeed.
During my career, I have been blessed with many opportunities to take part in some excellent programs to examine my behaviour and learn new ways of working with others.
However, the biggest impact on my ‘leadership style’ has come from an unforeseen source: parenthood.
(That’s not to say that you have to be a parent to be an effective leader, or that all leaders are great parents. But having responsibility for the growth of another human being gives plenty of opportunity to reflect.)
My eldest son taught me another lesson last weekend.
J turned 19, and is recently returned from university. He’s experienced some independence, but is back living in the family home. Already, that makes for an interesting dynamic.
He asked if he could have a barbecue with a few friends to celebrate his birthday.
His mother and I agreed, seeing it as a chance to meet the social circle that he had chosen, rather than the one forced on him at school.
(Even when your children are entering their 20th year, there’s still an obligation to worry. As a wise man told me many moons ago: “The sleepless nights never go away – but the reason for not sleeping changes over the years.”)
Only after we agreed, did J add: “By the way Dad; I’ll have to look after my guests - would you cook the barbecue?”
You can learn a lot about negotiation from your children.
His friends turned out to be a level-headed bunch – I was happy for all of them to be in the house / garden. Drink was consumed, music was played, jokes were told. And there was a lot of hugging.
It was an incident-free evening.
And for most of it, I was completely invisible in my own home.
Usually at a dinner party or barbecue or supper, I’m at the centre of things (or so my wife lets me believe). My responsibility is to entertain and engage. It’s part of being a host.
But at J’s barbecue, I became a utility.
All the guests were polite, with appropriate ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ - yet I could just have been an outside caterer brought in for the function.
On a stage where I usually have a speaking part, I was no more than the third spear carrier.
After I got over the ego bruising that none of them really wanted to speak to me, I watched my son look after his guests, enjoy their company, and sit at the centre of things.
And it was hugely rewarding.
In family, as in organizational life.
That’s how it should be when we have the courage to let go of the people and projects in our teams. When we sublimate our egos and encourage others into the spotlight.
If nothing else, it’s a healthy reminder that we are dispensable.
It’s also a reminder that the best we can do is pass on whatever wisdom we may have gathered along the way, and let others build upon it.
Like our children, our roles are on loan to us.
We’d better get used to letting them go.
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