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Does Parenthood Make You A Better Leader?

No video today. Let’s call it technical difficulties 

Sometimes life sends you lessons in mysterious ways. It is an eerie consistency that people and/or experiences tend to simply show up at the perfect time, when you most need them. This personal story demonstrates this quirk of nature. But it also reinforces the fact that the hardest lessons in parenthood ultimately make us better people…and better leaders. 

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This morning I’m early to meet a high school buddy for breakfast at my local Sunset Grill. It’s 6:30 am. I’ve just dropped my 11 year old son to hockey practice. Sitting in my truck, I watch the early morning shift enter the restaurant. They turn on the lights and scurry around inside to get ready for a 7am opening. I’ve got a half-hour to kill so I half-consciously pull out my phone and randomly hit one of my “favourites” on Safari.

A Random Lesson From the Cosmos

It turns out it’s an article I had tagged a couple of years ago entitled “Saying Goodbye to my child, the youngster”. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/michael-gerson-saying-goodbye-to-my-child-the-youngster/2013/08/19/6337802e-08dd-11e3-8974-f97ab3b3c677_story.html

It’s a very touching account of a father’s emotional story as he drops his son off at college for the first time. I find myself quickly engrossed in the article. About half-way through I realize there are tears streaming down my cheeks.

A Cathartic Moment

My kids are 8, 11, 13, and 14 at present. Certainly I’ve done the mental math before, but reading this article rocks me. I realize how precious little time I have left with my kids – especially the oldest two.

The quote that strikes me right between the eyes is this one. “Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility.” How stunningly true.

The Humble Sting of Parenthood

Only in parenthood do we see the sharp edges of our parents in us. Only in parenthood are there times when fully grown adults can have such a bewildering confusion of what to do next. Only in parenthood are our deepest flaws exposed. Only in parenthood do we carry such burdensome power. Only in parenthood do we laugh, cry, scream and mope…all in the same hour. Only in parenthood do we learn the most difficult but important lessons in life…the ones that induce guilt and shame but are ultimately about transformation and redemption.

The list goes on. It is and continues to be the toughest job I’ve ever had in my life and yet it is the most rewarding. Such is the journey of parenthood.

My god, do these kids ever teach us humility. And in teaching us that humility, they teach us about ourselves, our limits, our potential and our most dominant character traits.

The Results of Humble Leadership

It’s hard to dispute that humility is anything but a very positive human quality. And, as you might guess, many studies show that when humility is demonstrated in leaders, it also has very positive effects on organizations.

Humble leaders tend to dole out credit generously to others. Humble leaders tend to be more collaborative and open to suggestions. Humble leaders tend not to double down on strategies that aren’t working simply because it was their idea. Humble leaders tend to recognize when it is time to pass the torch to a new voice rather than keep a stranglehold on power. And humble leaders inspire humility in all aspects of the organizations they lead and the people within them.

OK, I’ll admit that I quite enjoyed the headline of this post even though it might have been a tad misleading. Of course, there are many other aspects of personality and behaviour, either learned or inherited, that contribute to leadership success.

A Definite Correlation

With that said, there’s no doubt that parenthood absolutely teaches us humility. And it is rather indisputable that humility has far-reaching positive implications in organizations where it is demonstrated by senior leaders. So by extension, parenthood absolutely has the potential to enhance leadership capabilities. Now we haven’t spoken about the other two qualities mentioned in that magic quote – patience and sacrifice – but using the same logic, I think you can connect the dots on your own from here. And ultimately, it simply reinforces the same conclusion.

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Brent C. Wagner