How raising daughters has taught me to be a better leader
“You know Daddy, you’ve been on your phone the whole time we’ve been sitting here.”
While the words of my eldest daughter, Isla, were a tough pill to swallow, she was right to call me out.
I’d gotten caught up in my work email at the breakfast table again and wasn’t giving my family the attention they deserved. So along with my apology, I vowed to make balance a bigger priority moving forward.
But this wasn’t the first lesson I’d learned from my girls. Nor will it be the last. It seems like every day I’m learning something new about myself not only as a father—but also as a leader.
And because I’ve been a leader longer than I’ve been a parent, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the real impact my daughters have had on my leadership style.
Do as I say, and as I do
After becoming a parent I became acutely aware of the gravity and impact of not only my role as a leader, but also my behavior. As a father, I realized very quickly that children pick up on every little thing you do and that your moods, actions and reactions often speak much louder than words.
Before having children I was much more emotional in the workplace. I’d allow things like a low-performing month to negatively—and visibly—affect me. Now I realize just how toxic that kind of behavior is, and that even my solemn silence might be sending the wrong message. People are looking to me for confidence, and how I react or respond to both highs and lows will set the tone for the entire team.
When my team has a particularly tough month, I make it a point to call a meeting and acknowledge that it wasn’t due to a lack of focus or effort. Proactivity prevents them from assuming I’m angry or frustrated and positivity is more encouraging and inspiring than any lecture or rant.
Nothing wrong with 9-5
I’m a better leader now because I understand balance like I never did before, as well as the true meaning of productivity. Before my daughters, like many of today’s working professionals, I subscribed to the classic, “first in, last out” mentality that equated how hard one worked with how many hours they spent at the office. Not only is this a flawed philosophy that undermines true hard work and a dedicated work ethic, but it also deters and discourages parents (most often working mothers) from certain workplaces.
On the contrary, I’ve found that some of the most productive people in our office are the parents whose schedules require them to leave a little earlier each day to tend to the varying needs of their families. These professionals aren’t working less, they’re simply getting more done in less time and learning how to be resourceful with their windows of free time outside the office.
I’m thankful that Sprout values family and doesn’t require parents to sacrifice time with our loved ones in order to stay ahead in our careers. Instead we reward “hard work” manifested through productivity and overall contribution.
Empowering women in power
My daughters have also helped foster my value and admiration for working women and mothers, as well as my dedication to adding more female leaders to our ranks.
Perhaps as a result of my own diverse background, I’ve always been keenly aware of the diversity (or lack thereof) of any room I walk into. But what I realized after having daughters is that many female leaders must have a similar experience walking into an office. There’s simply not enough women in leadership roles across all industries, but especially in our field of tech and engineering.
I’m sensitive to this reality for several reasons:
1) Perhaps somewhat selfishly, I want my daughters to have good role models as they grow up. And I find myself even more invested in reversing this reality because I want to show them that leadership roles are absolutely in their realm of possibility, and to remove any notion of limits that may potentially hinder them from reaching their full potential.
2) I know the value that the female perspective brings to the table and whole-heartedly believe we miss out on massive opportunities in their absence.
Not only do women open up a whole new network for your business, they also bring a vital perspective to your organization’s everyday challenges.
I love the story Tina Fey tells about her first year as head writer of SNL, a year the show also added several new female writers. She recounts that as the chemistry in the writer’s room became more gender-diverse, certain jokes played better—giving attention and screen time to more female-specific material that otherwise might have ended up on the cutting room floor.
And it wasn’t that the men were being malicious. The material just didn’t appeal to them as much and in some cases they didn’t even understand it. Having more women in the room (and in charge) was necessary to bring a female perspective and sense of humor to SNL, ultimately strengthening the show in the long run.
I’m seeing it happen here at Sprout with the addition of our newly-appointed CMO, Jamie Gilpin. She and several other female marketing leaders in the organization have tackled the historically difficult task of crafting our brand story, and have evolved it to a level of sentiment and quality it really never had in past efforts.
VIP leadership: values in practice
When I think about the values my wife and I strive to instill in our young daughters, I realize that many of them are also values I hope to cultivate on my own team.
Confidence is a big one. Whenever we introduce our daughters to new people, we encourage them to shake hands and make eye contact. These seemingly small gestures help build a solid foundation for confidence in future social and workplace situations.
We also try to teach and encourage a growth mindset—meaning it’s not just about the output, but also the effort. And that if even they don’t succeed, there is value in the work they put in and in the lessons they learned from the experience. We also want our girls to have a good work ethic; to value doing something right over doing it fast, easy or cheap. This is also important to Sprout as an organization and to me as a leader.
Most importantly, we value respect. We teach our girls not to raise their voices in anger. And in our opinion the best way to teach this is to model that same behavior. So you’ll never hear me yell or scream in my home, nor in the office.
Like father, like son
So much of what I learned about fatherhood and leadership I learned from my own dad. Growing up, my dad spent a lot of time mentoring my sister—specifically in the more male-dominated fields of academics, computers and banking. He instilled in her the importance of knowing her worth and being proactive and confident in asking for what she deserves.
And in doing so, he taught me the importance of being an advocate, rather than an adversary, for women in the world, and in the workplace. In observing his extra care and dedication, I now know that the challenge of putting more women in leadership roles is not going to fix itself. And that it takes intentionality and proactivity to make it happen.
Until they can provide female candidates with adequate representation and positive role models in leadership, companies will continue to struggle to balance the scales and benefit from the invaluable diversity of thought and experience.
That’s why I’m not complacent with just putting female resumes at the top of the pile, but actively seeking them out for the pile in the first place. As part of Sprout’s ongoing DEI initiatives, we’ve made female leadership a priority—a move I’m very much excited about as both a father and a leader.
It’s my job as a parent to cultivate and protect the ideal environment for my daughters to grow, thrive and succeed in every area of their lives. I have a similar mission as a leader in my organization. The decisions we make as leaders now not only impact our own teams, but will also have a lasting effect on generations to come—including my daughters.
We still have a lot of work to do, myself included. I need to aim to improve my work/life balance, practice more patience with my family and continue seeking out and hiring more female leaders. Awareness is a good start, but true progress needs action.
So I’ll continue to do everything in my power to create and contribute to a workplace environment that honors and respects ALL people—for my girls and for the common good.
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