Out of the Mouths of Babes: Lessons on Building a Great Company


One of the unexpected lessons I learned as a parent was the similarity between “raising” a company and raising kids. Every time I heard a business speaker talk about life and leadership as it related to business, it made me think about how important it was for my daughters to learn the same skills. The 10 KIDmandments is the culmination of my attending Vistage, a CEO leadership program and the host of world-class business speakers, for 14 years. I mentioned in last week's blog that one of the unexpected benefits of writing a book was the crossover effect it had on my work. With that in mind, here are three lessons I've learned that you can take from parenting and apply to your growing business:

Lesson 1: You Set the Example

Kids are master impersonators. They quickly learn how to mimic vocabulary, mannerisms, and behavior. Unfortunately, they don't have the life experience to discern good behaviors from bad ones. This means that if you're the kind of parent who models losing your patience, acting impulsively, and failing to demonstrate respect for others, it's very likely that your kids are going to exhibit the same behavior. On the other hand, if you are patient, thoughtful, and respectful, your kids are far more likely to model this behavior.

Penny Herscher, the CEO of FirstRain, writes in a column for the New York Times that parenting helped her understand that it wasn't all about her. She had to be cognizant of how her leadership and actions influenced those around her. She writes:

“I just evolved very quickly to realize that this was not all about me, and I took those lessons and applied them to the workplace. The things you learn raising a child are great skills for nurturing a team and bringing a project to life. “

I think realizing that “it's not about you” means understanding that your actions and demeanor set a precedent that is then embraced by others in your workplace. Just like your children, your employees look to you as a role model, and your behavior sets the tone for how they believe they can or should act at work. If you want them in the office on time every day, then you must be a model of punctuality. If you want them to stay focused on the task at hand, you can't check on your stock portfolio during a meeting. In everything from sales to client management to dispute resolution, be mindful of your behavior — you'll likely see it reflected in your workforce.

Lesson 2: You're Never Truly Prepared

There's really no way to fully prepare for the experience of raising children. From the minute our first child was born, our lives became consumed with providing the best care and guidance possible. From being up all night to taking care of scratches and bruises to dealing with discipline and bad behavior, we were suddenly responsible for the needs and wellbeing of our child. Most of the time (especially with our first child!), my wife and I had to be able to learn and adjust on the fly.

A recent article in Forbes quotes Heather Ouida, co-founder of Mommybites, as saying that running a business is very similar. She says that, “It's important to honor the unpredictability of the journey and in doing so, embrace the lessons along the way.” Unexpected challenges are great learning opportunities, as long as we allow ourselves the space to grow and change.

When you're running a business, you play many roles, some familiar and some not. You probably have a great deal of experience or skill in one area, such as sales, management, or public relations. However, you will frequently have to attend to responsibilities that are in further into your “stretch zone”, which might mean speaking in front of a large crowd, or even taking on responsibility for letting an employee go. Much like parenting, the key is to be patient, be flexible, and embrace continual learning (as reflected in Kidmandment 6: Love to Learn) and personal development.

Lesson 3: Delegation is Key

When you're a parent, it's easy to be consumed by the job at hand. Children demand (and deserve) a huge amount of time and energy. Focusing all of your attention on every one of your child's needs can be mentally and physically exhausting. It can sometimes overwhelm us and lead to moments of stress, frustration, and even anger. That's why it's so important to teach and trust our kids to do things on their own as they're able. We teach them how to make their own breakfast, how to get dressed on their own, how to manage their finances (Kidmandment 9: Money and Materialism) and eventually how to drive a car — a major moment of relinquishing responsibility! Without gradually giving over some control, you'll drive yourself crazy and deprive your kids of valuable skills for adulthood.

None other than Sir Richard Branson, writing in Entrepreneur, says that raising his two kids and allowing them the freedom to make their own mistakes helped him become better at delegation at Virgin Records. He reflects:

“You have to show trust in your team, right from the start. I am always closely involved at first, then… I keep tabs on everything from a distance, allowing [them to] make their own decisions, learn from their errors and celebrate their businesses' successes. I offer advice and support, but try to avoid stifling them through micromanagement.”

When you're running your business, you too may be tempted to micro-manage and oversee every aspect of its growth. Over time, though, you'll have to train and trust others to perform those critical functions. That's the only way that you'll be able to focus on doing your own job to the best of your ability. Delegate often to maintain your sanity — not to mention that teaching a child to be autonomous is a wonderful gift to give.

I hope you find as much joy as I do in both your work and family life! It's worth mentioning that not every lesson overlaps, and it's important to maintain the separation of work and family where appropriate. But when crossover lessons arise, embrace them. I've found that they have improved my own journey in immeasurable ways.

What lessons have you learned from parenting that apply to your work? Or vice versa! Join the conversation by tweeting @JeffOddo.