Being part of a family has provided all of us with more leadership skills than we realize, and the things we’ve learned at home can transfer seamlessly into our business lives.
By John Addison
Great leaders have surrounded me in both my life and my career, but the most important one has been my mother.
There is one trip to the grocery store with my mother that left a great impression on me. As we were approaching the short checkout line, an African-American woman was standing in front of us. When this occurred, the civil rights movement was just starting and there was still the expectation that a white person should go in front. It was no surprise when the cashier told the woman she needed to step aside and let my mother in. What was surprising was when my mother placed her hand on the lady’s shoulder and said, “No, no, no—you were ahead of me.” The checkout girl didn’t like it one bit, but my mother didn’t relent. She put aside accepted social norms and did what was right.
I was too little to really logically understand what happened, but I knew it made me really proud of my mom and want to be like that—whatever that was—when I grew up. I now realize my mother was showing me what it meant to be a true leader, and I’ve spent most of my career trying to emulate the examples she set for me.
There are great tools, seminars and books that provide you with tips on leadership, but the most valuable resource any of us has is at home. Being part of a family has provided all of us with more leadership skills than we realize, and the things we’ve learned at home can transfer seamlessly into our business lives.
1. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. “I promise.” Those two little words are pretty potent. They are your vow. Your bond. Your word. You want to be the one person that your family knows they can count on, no matter what, but when you break promises, you begin to erode that trust. Over time, continually breaking promises can also do irreparable damage to and ruin the absolute most important relationships in your life.
You should also make the extra effort not to break promises to business associates and employees. They also need to know they can count on you. Missing one deadline may raise a red flag. Not providing one raise as promised may cause resentment. But repeatedly breaking promises to your company’s stakeholders will eventually lead to the demise of critical relationships in your career; relationships that are crucial to your survival and could ultimately ruin your business.
2. Lead by example. You can tell your kids what they should do until you’re blue in the face, but unless you are practicing what you preach, you aren’t providing them the guidance they need.
I didn’t understand what I was seeing in the grocery store that day when I was 4 or 5, but as I went through school during the height of integration, the example my mom set helped me adjust to the changing tide while many others were reacting with hate and intolerance. Her example continues to impact the way I interact with others and the kind of leader I am to this day, and I am thankful for it.
Our employees are also watching and taking cues from our behavior. We can’t tell them to do something but then do the opposite ourselves. We are leaders who are paving the way for future leaders—both at home and in the workplace—and as such we have to demonstrate daily how great leaders conduct themselves.
3. Let them spread their wings. As a dad, my job was to help my boys find what they were good at and guide them toward it. I always loved the saying, “It’s important to give them roots and wings, not just loot and things.” But in order for them to grow, I also had to give them space to figure out things on their own. That’s a scary move as a parent, but a necessary one and we can only hope if they foul up along the way, they learn from their mistakes. They won’t ever get that chance, though, if we are constantly hovering over them, cleaning up their messes and not allowing them to deal with the consequences of their actions.
The same needs to be done for your employees. Trust you’ve done a good enough job hiring the right people and give them space to exercise their independence and creativity. The only thing micromanaging will create is resentment and lead to their exit from the company sooner rather than later. As so often happens with our children, by letting our employees figure things out on their own a bit, we usually end up learning a thing or two ourselves.
4. Love what you do. I can honestly say Loveanne and our boys are the most important people in my life and the people I most want to make proud. My love for them is what has driven me—both personally and professionally—through the most difficult times. Marriage and raising a family isn’t easy, but the power of our love tends to overshadow everything else and makes us want to keep up the good fight in order to give them the best life possible and be someone they can admire.
The only way to be a good leader is to love what you do and be passionate about your mission. You have to want to make the people who work for you proud. People are going to be much more loyal to the leader who stuck up for them and worked for them than for the one who was negative and only looked out for himself, just like your spouse and children are going to be loyal to the guy who never quit on them, no matter what.
Applying the principles you use with your family at home to the people in your organization shouldn’t be that much of a stretch because, if you’re doing things right and truly are a great leader, these people are already like an extension of your family.
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