Friday, February 06, 2009



Is there a connection between leading and parenting?

Well, that may sound like asking for the connection between a book and a towel. It’s obvious, isn’t it? I mean, it’s obvious that the connection is not clear.
Philosophically speaking, you can always find a connection between two elements if you just open your eyes to possibilities. The connections can range from the silly to profound, from subtle to glaring.

For me, the connection between leading and parenting lies either at the influence of one over the other or at the hard choices we make in becoming good in one or the other or both. I like to focus on the latter.

At times, I ask myself, “Which is more fulfilling and meaningful– being a leader or being a parent?” What destiny is worth pursuing, becoming a respected leader or a model parent?” Mentally, I think the choice is obvious and easy. It’s both. Reality bites though. And it bites hard. Living up to that choice which is really hard for me, and I guess for anyone, too. Finding the right balance between leading and parenting presents a sort of prisoner’s dilemma where making one compete or cooperate with the other is easier said than done.

There are many situations which show the creative, if not destructive, tension between leading and parenting. I like to share some from my own experiences.
One time, I promised my six-year old son, Justin, that I would go home early that night to help him in his assignment and to read to him his favorite story. But then, a situation in the office required me to render overtime such that I can’t fulfill anymore my promise to Justin. I talked to him over the phone and tried to explain as best as I could why Daddy can’t go home early that night. He cried instantly. I tried to explain further, but the more I tried, the more his cries grow painfully louder. Then, I heard him say, with obvious disappointment in his sobbing voice, “You don’t have time for me anymore, Daddy. This is not the first time… I’l just go and see Mom..” I didn’t know what to say next. It was like the whole of The Enterprise Center where I was working fell on me that very moment.

That incident compelled me to reflect about the choices I make, about the values I uphold. And as I did my reflections, I saw ironies and contradictions. Yet, I also saw some connections. Suddenly, the seemingly blurred lines connecting parenting and leadership became more visible. My son’s words, though it cut deep like a sharp knife, also served as a cat’s eye guiding my path as I drive in a dark highway.
There I was, trying my best to become a good leader at work. In some ways, I have succeeded in becoming a good leader, but in many ways I failed in my role as a father.

As a Toastmaster, I try to develop myself to become a good communicator. But this I ask: a good communicator to whom? Do I make my kids part of the Toastmaster’s equation? If I become a good communicator to others but not to my own children, what does that make of me?

As a training professional, I teach myself and others how to become good leaders at work. If I become a good teacher of leadership at work, but I fail to impart the leadership values to my kids, what does that make of me?

I have facilitated a lot of workshops, helping others develop their organizational and personal mission and vision. What about my own? Way back in college, when I, as an ardent student leader, wrote what is still now my personal mission statement. “To make a difference in the lives of others through the power of my words and my voice” But now I started to ask myself: who are these others? Are my kids part of my mission?

As a fellow, I try to be kind to others. I show them the best in me. I have been known and praised for being a master of diplomacy and patience when dealing with others. But how hard do I really try to show patience and genuine respect to my kids, especially when they become unruly?

As a trainer, I teach others about emotional bank account, encouraging them to make more valuable deposits than withdrawals in their relationships with others. But as a parent, do I really, consciously, try to take an accounting of the deposits I make to my children? Now I remember one writer who said, “Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”

You see, I am not a perfect father. I cannot even say now that I am a good one. Only my sons can pass on that judgment. But it will be years from now, when they grow up and I grow old, when, either with a sense of regret, they will say “My Dad sucks; I wish I had another one” or with beaming smiles, they will boast, “Yeah, Dad’s cool and he rocks; I’m glad he’s my Dad.”

As I reflect on the connection between parenting and leading, I realize that I cannot be whole if I succeed in one but fails in the other. Their dichotomy is nothing but a self-made illusion. It’s like a natural cycle where each is connected to the other in a seamless flow. Now, it’s vividly clear to me than ever. Choosing between being a good parent or a good leader to others is the easiest one to make. The hardest, and only meaningful, choice is deciding to be good in both roles and finding the right way to live true to that decision. What is truly difficult, yet enriching and fulfilling, is making necessary compromises and sacrifices in each role but still managing to excel in both.

What my child taught me that fateful night is this: the true meaning of success has to be seen in the way I make a difference both in the lives of those I work with and those that I live with.
What about you?

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