Three Lessons in Leadership from My Big Family LifeJan 29, 2024
“You have seven kids!! I can barely handle two.”
My wife and I hear comments like this daily, and I think there is a lot of truth in the sentiment that it is difficult to keep up with two children. From my experience, raising two kids was much harder than what we are doing now, and given the recent birth of our seventh child, I find myself reflecting on why that’s the case.
When we had our first two kids, I can remember walking that tightrope where I would oscillate between feeling like I was in control and ready to step forward and moments later feeling like I was falling over the side and losing any progress I had made. It seemed that I was on the verge of knowing everything and accounting for every foreseeable risk that might prevent my kids from succeeding and simultaneously realizing how little I knew and how much I wasn’t really in control at all.
Compare those feelings to how my world looks today, and you will see one clear difference. I now squarely understand that I still have a lot to learn and that it is impossible to assert my need for control in the countless interactions my kids will face throughout the day. I more clearly understand my role as their father in helping them establish virtuous habits and moral convictions and then keeping their momentum aimed toward a future that supports the most important priorities of life. I serve as the foundation builder, the encouraging coach, the occasional lane bumper, and the barrel man, perched on the crow’s nest and pointing the vessel toward land.
In honor of the recent birth of my son, I thought it appropriate to share three of the many leadership lessons that my large family life illuminates for me.
Lesson One: What You Do Matters More than What You Say – We all know this to be true, but kids are the ultimate reminder that leaders are called to lead in action and not just in language. When you say one thing but do another, the kids will follow suit with how you act most of the time. However, if what you do matches what you say, your likelihood of impacting the behavior of your children is nearly 100%.
We see this at work, too. When a manager or supervisor doesn’t follow their own advice and core values become nothing more than nice artwork, the resulting discord of their actions versus their words sews contempt among the team and contributes to the degradation of a company’s foundation. What You Do Matters More than What You Say (and they both matter a lot).
Lesson Two – Done is Better than Perfect – Leaders should be charting a course for the success and maximum impact of their team, just as parents should be doing the same for their kids. But what happens when we nit-pick every decision and point out every area where an employee or a child could have done something better? We create an internal fear that paralyzes decision-making and seeks to gain approval for every thought, word, or action instead of recognizing the incredible growth and progress that comes from getting the job done.
Often, we pretend to know the “right” way to do something or which plan would yield the absolute best results, but the fact remains that we rarely have that type of all-knowing insight when facing an opportunity or a challenge. If, however, we encourage our team members (and our kids) to take action and get the job done, then we can share in a reflection that includes our expectations, the steps that we took to complete the task, and if the outcomes met, exceeded, or did not meet our expectations. That is where the real growth occurs, not in the pretense of always getting it “right.” Done is Better than Perfect.
Lesson Three – Leadership Requires Love – In all its forms, leadership is synonymous with virtue, and we are called to serve others with magnanimity and love. This statement is very different than most people’s views of management, which is purely a matter of efficiency, cost control, and utility. But when we look at our workplaces like our homes, we can see the call to live these virtues.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “Magnanimity by its very name denotes stretching forth of the soul to great things.” Leaders are not called to comfort but instead to strive for this greatness. At work and in the home, true leaders and good parents operate with noble generosity and express their love throughout their very being by willing the good of the other. Leadership Requires Love.
The leadership lessons of large family life abound, and I encourage you to reflect on how your leadership at home translates to your role in the workplace. After all, we are made as undivided beings, developed through the integral formation of our entire self – mind, body, and soul – to live and lead others in this undivided life.