With Father’s Day right around the corner, it seems an appropriate time to talk about the ways in which parenthood has influenced my leadership style at Optus. Being a good parent is much like being a good leader, in that you must create a path for those in your charge to not only succeed but thrive. Whether it’s your child or an employee, it’s important to demonstrate an interest in their development, show confidence in their abilities, and provide them with the tools they need to overcome obstacles. Taking a page out of my parenting playbook, here are five ways being a father has shaped how I lead.
Patience is a virtue.
Whether you’re in the role of parent or leader (or both), patience is an important tool. When you demonstrate patience to your child or employee, you show respect, allow freedom, inspire positivity, and exercise good timing—all of which foster trust and productivity. Being patient in both parenting and leadership means calmly and rationally handling the day-to-day obstacles while staying focused on the bigger picture. Sometimes, that means remaining quiet when you feel like shouting or staying the course despite bad behavior. Being the best leader or parent means slowing down, acting with intention, and cultivating patience.
It’s a thankless job, but if you love it, who cares?
For those of us in parenting or leadership roles, we know it can be a thankless job. The hours are long, and there are very few pats on the back. However, we gladly accept these roles knowing that we are committed to doing what’s right—not what’s easy. Like parenting, leadership is personal, and that means that if you’re doing it for the right reasons, it should feel intrinsically gratifying. As Simon Sinek said, “leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” If we’re taking care of our people and putting their needs ahead of our own, we’re on the right path.
Let go and let them fail.
As parents, we tend to try and protect our kids from failure and disappointment. The impulse to jump in and provide support is real, but so is the cost. Similarly, in organizations, it sometimes feels easier to rescue employees and stop them from making a poor decision. However, each time we do this, we miss an opportunity to help them learn resiliency and self-sufficiency. We make it harder for our children or our employees to come up with new and better ways of doing things. Failure is a necessary part of evolution, so it’s critical that we help our employees and children to overcome it. Sometimes, I find it helpful to share a past failure of my own or to talk through a plan B strategy. Doing so helps my team to feel supported and open to taking risks, and we must take risks to grow—personally and professionally.
Direct and consistent communication is essential.
Whether at home or in the office, communication is key when it comes to building and maintaining relationships. It’s the foundation upon which trust is built, and it all starts with listening. In order to respond, we must listen intently and fully engage with our child or employee. Once we understand, we can respond with guidance, direction, clarification, or empathy. It’s important to create a clear picture that leaves no room for interpretation or confusion. Your choice of words matters, as does your frequency of communication. Just as we do with our children, we need to take a moment to think about not only what we want to say, but how we want to say it. Then, look for opportunities to reinforce the message. When you take the time to cultivate strong interpersonal communication skills, you’re setting the foundation for a strong relationship.
Positive reinforcement works better than constant criticism.
The concept of positive reinforcement is actually pretty simple: If you reward a behavior, it is more likely to be repeated. And whether you’re talking about potty training or a new job skill, the same principle applies. Because we spend a significant portion of our lives at work, it makes sense that we’d want to devote time to creating a pleasant and positive environment. Beyond that, positive reinforcement in the workplace is a great way to encourage productivity and motivation, while also discouraging turnover. The impact of simply feeling appreciated for a job well done can go a long way.
Leading as a Father
Being a parent is the most challenging and most rewarding form of leadership. As much as I love Optus and the people that make it so great, being a father is my number one priority—and the best leadership role I could ever have. Remember, it’s important to enjoy the journey. There’s no such thing as perfection, so give yourself and your child (or employee) a break, and don’t be scared to laugh at yourself. Having fun and enjoying the ride is why we do this.
Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there (including mine)!
Written by Mark Duckworth, Founder & CCO