Jim Mondry has achieve significant success as a professional leader. He credits those accomplishments to things he learned from becoming a parent. He shares them here.
Becoming a father was an unexpected event for my wife and I. The conception of my daughter was not planned. It happened at a really complicated time in our lives. My wife was in the middle of a PhD, and I was working a job that I wanted to escape. The news of my wife’s pregnancy made me anxious that I would lose the time I needed to make a major career transition. My daughter’s birth turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
It was true that in the first two years, I didn’t have any time to try to grow my career in the ways that I wanted, but I came to see that I was gaining lessons from parenting that could improve my job and my performance. By becoming a father, I learned more about myself and how to be a better leader which has set me up for the roles that I want to take on. Here are three leadership lessons that I have learned from parenting my daughter, and how they have changed how I lead at work.
1) As a dad, you need to figure out what you believe about the world and live that out.
Children are very curious about the world. They love the question “why”. Why is the sky blue? Why do I need to put my toys away? Why are you and mommy fighting? The little philosophers love more challenging questions like: why does the world exist? Why are some people mean? Where do we go when we die?
As a parent, part of your role is to help your child learn morals and ethics. You want to teach them how to engage with the world around them, and to do so in a way that lets them flourish. But, I had a lot of questions myself that I never made an effort to answer while I was a young adult. As I’ve tried to find ways to answer my daughter’s questions I’ve been forced to question how I engage with others around me.
At work, this has changed how I deal with difficult people. One of the most important beliefs I have about children, is that they are trying the best they can to be good (within their limited understanding and mental processing capability). At work, it can be really easy to write off certain people and assume they are stupid, lazy, or just a jerk, but if I consider that they are trying their best given the life circumstances they are in, I have to consider what is necessary from me to support them in being successful at work. If someone isn’t doing the work that I expect of them, it’s not because they are trying to be difficult. By applying the same belief I have about my daughter to those I work with I see that they haven’t been given clear expectations, they don’t have skills/knowledge necessary, or don’t have the environment they need to be successful. As a leader, it is critical for me to make sure when I hand off work that the person understands what is necessary, has the knowledge and skills required to be successful (or has the support to get it), and that they have an environment around them that supports their success.
Understanding this has improved the relationships with people around me at work because I don’t judge any more (or at least, not anywhere near as much). I focus on the problem at hand and find ways to get to the root cause, rather than become frustrated with the person. Since I am now focused on collaboratively creating success, we both grow from the experience.
2) As a dad, you practice perseverance on a daily basis
I’m a big fan of the concept of habits and practices. From a neurological perspective, the more often you repeat a task, the better it gets written into your brain. Any time that I practice dealing with a difficult situation is valuable (not fun, but valuable).
As a father, you will be challenged by your child on a daily basis. If you have a kid with ADHD like I do, you will be challenged many times a day. These challenges can be everything from trying to get your kid ready to go to sleep, to simply getting them to have three bites of the breakfast they asked for but are too distracted to eat. I have had to work hard on practicing my response to difficult situations – to focus on my emotions, what they are telling me, and then learning how to not respond emotionally (i.e. don’t yell or get angry).
At work, this has been transformational in how I deal with my role. I’m a “problem solver”. The company I work for builds electronic systems, but there are daily challenges. The problems range from material supply problems, to quality issues, to scheduling problems, to unrealistic expectations from the customers. I can walk into work on a Monday thinking the week will be quiet, only to walk out on Friday feeling like I’ve dealt with three weeks’ worth of work. For a long time, I really struggled with the unexpected challenges, especially the overwhelming ones. An unexpected challenge can be fun, but it’s not fun when you’re hit with five of them in a matter of a week, and your job performance is evaluated on whether you can fix all of these problems on schedule. I used to get overwhelmed with the sense that “this is impossible, I can’t achieve this goal”. I would rely heavily on those around me, but be in a bad mental health state myself and have severely reduced efficiency.
Now, I have learned that even if I may be feeling “this is impossible”, I have enough practice from parenting my child that I know how to push through that feeling. And, since I’m not stuck feeling hopeless, I am in a better mental state to get creative and work with my team to find better solutions to the problems we are facing increasing our chances of success.
3) As a dad, you learn to face the truth—you have limits, and that is okay
Before my daughter was born, if things were busy at work, I knew I could put in extra hours to resolve problems. I could take work home to finish, or I could stay at the lab – my wife was okay with it. Once our daughter was born, she took a lot of energy from both of us. I couldn’t stay late at work, without knowing that it was going to put an extra heavy burden on my wife – which was not the type of relationship I wanted to create. I started to push back more, and acknowledge when I couldn’t do projects, tasks or travel.
At first, this scared me. I was really worried that saying “no” was going to really impede my career growth. I still had a lot of work to do, but I learned to acknowledge when I needed support, when I needed to delegate tasks, and what my limits really were. I had no desire to be a super-hero any more who could take on anything. I have been forced to get more creative with how I engage problems, because “working harder” just isn’t an option. This has helped me find more effective solutions.
Recently, I was overseeing three projects on tight schedules. I knew I couldn’t keep track of every moving part in my mind (due to lack of sleep from my daughter), and I forced myself to map out the project tasks in several different ways. I wanted to get everything out of my memory, and organized onto paper. I created the standard Gantt chart and action list for my managers, but I also created a mind map to help me keep track of the most pressing issues. By taking the time to creatively write out all of the work that was required, I developed a better understanding of the situation. Through my three sheets, I could read the whole story quickly. This allowed me to understand what was happening in each project. This was a significant step, because for the previous three months no one in the company understood what was actually required to complete the tasks. Once I could see all that was required, I knew I couldn’t manage all of the tasks and was able to draw in resources to support the smaller tasks – and because of how I mapped out the tasks it was quicker to delegate work and ensure that everything got done well.
Being a parent is an extremely challenging experience. But, that challenge encourages you to grow in ways you could have never anticipated. I am truly grateful for what I have learned, and how I have become a better person in the process of learning to parent my daughter. My message to similarly gifted parents: Use that gift wisely. We can change the world.
Top image: Flickr/Lindsay Shanley
Article image: Katie Lutz