I’m a bit of a business geek, and I like to learn new “tricks of the trade.” With upwards of 1 million business books published annually in the United States alone, there is no shortage of learning opportunities. However, given I read about as fast as I run these days, I’m forced to complement self-help books with other resources.
I discovered two such resources in the most unlikely of forms and places – a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, under my own roof.
I got married in March and was lucky enough to acquire two terrific toddlers in addition to a wonderful wife. Having spent the last two decades or so living alone, I am acutely aware of the many changes my new roommates and lifestyle have brought. While I am very new to parenting, I find many strategies parallel what we do – or should do – as business executives.
1. Be a “yes” (wo)man. One parenting theory presented to me was to “never say no.” That may be effective for some families, but it lasted about six minutes in my household. Nonetheless, a related tip from my mom – say yes whenever possible – applies to kids (and spouses) and coworkers.
There will inevitably be those times when you must yell “NO!,” whether literally when your toddler reaches for a hot stovetop, or figuratively when an employee wants to implement a new program you know will create chaos for your company. But when presented with opportunities you are reasonably confident will not harm your kids or company, try to say yes. Encouragement and acceptance will yield greater results for your people (however short) than discouragement and denial.
2. Create structure. I’m a process-oriented guy and see value at work and home by having structure. Kids thrive with it, and it’s important your staff know your standard operating procedures. It helps manage expectations and allow your people to focus on what they do best – even if that’s playing with Hot Wheels and Legos.
3. Hold them accountable. A vital offshoot of structure is accountability. Accountability is not limited to top-down parent-child or supervisor-subordinate relationships. Every person privy to the successful operation – including spouses and teachers, and customers and vendors – should be held accountable to agreed-upon expectations. Of equal import, you need to create a culture in which your kids, spouse, employees, customers, et al., are compelled to hold you accountable, too.
4. Set clear expectations. Speaking of expectations, it is unfair and ineffective to hold them accountable to expectations that were not articulated clearly. In the workplace, creating a culture in which your people speak up if there is any confusion is helpful, but be mindful common sense is not really that common – it’s different for everyone – so never take the communication piece for granted. At home, it may require getting down to toddler-level and asking your child to repeat the directive to ensure everyone is on the same proverbial page.
5. Ignorance is bliss. There have been many “if I knew then what I know now” days in the last 17 years that may have prevented me from starting my first business. Similarly, a little naivety of what it takes to be a great parent is not a bad thing. Ignorance can indeed be bliss; and contribute to receiving incredible gratification.
6. Consider short- and long-term financials. A very short time ago, I only had myself to worry about financially. Now, the importance of monthly budgeting, retirement planning and figuring out how to feed, educate and protect a family in between is paramount. While there are countless hiccups in business as in life, paying close attention to your financials and creating balance between and alignment with your current needs and long-term vision are important.
7. Prioritize. You cannot get it all done, so quit trying. Be realistic with what non-mission-critical activities you can take on, and prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.
8. Be productive every (quiet) moment. There aren’t many at work or home, but quiet times are imperative for getting caught up (and, one day I hope, getting ahead). I try to maximize every minute when the kids go to bed. Productivity during this precious time could be different for everyone; for my wife and me it ranges from laundry and kitchen detail to exercise and computer work. It could be getting one’s “zen” time in front of a TV or book.
At the office, I have to be intentional about creating the quiet time by blocking time sans interruptions to focus on high-priority tasks. I’ve always had the luxury of “tonight” or “this weekend” to address the overload at work; not anymore!
9. Celebrate small victories. I’m trying to turn a professional liability into a parenting asset by celebrating small victories. I recognize more than ever how important wins of any size are to people of any size. Positive reinforcement is really important, so make sure your people at home and work know they’ve “done good.”
10. Delegate effectively. Another bane of my Type-A existence is delegation. I know I can’t achieve my goals for my business or family without it, yet it’s oftentimes hard for perfectionists to let go. While getting more done is always a goal, giving your kids/staff more responsibility and opportunities to learn will yield great and long-lasting benefits.
A corner piece to the delegation “puzzle” is giving them the freedom (traditional toddler stalling tactics excluded) to accomplish the task their way. As evidenced by my asking our 2-year-old to clean up the water he spilled recently, it may take some cajoling (I mean leading) and will certainly be done in a manner and timeline that differs greatly from the process I’d use, but let your kids and employees use their own brains to problem-solve. (But be available to get them back on track if they stray too far.)
Being a business owner makes me a better parent. I’m optimistic being a parent will make me a better business owner, too.
Scott Bartle is publisher of InMaricopa.
This column appears, in part, in the July issue of InMaricopa.