I recently had the pleasure of meeting this year’s summer interns over lunch at our agency. I asked one of them afterwards whether she enjoyed the chat and how I could help as she wrapped up her summer with us. Her answer surprised me a little. Apparently, at one point I’d said something related to ambition and how my first priority in life is being a dad and a husband, with my "day job" as CEO coming second. That was both motivating and intimidating for the group to hear. They certainly weren’t expecting it.
Did I mean it? Absolutely. Would I have said it before becoming a father? No way.
I’m now dad to three young kids, a husband and worldwide CEO for hundreds of our Brand Union people. And I’m becoming more and more aware of how a family-first attitude is not only hugely important for your children’s development, but of how parental learnings and behaviors can translate effectively in a people-first company and a people-driven industry. Ultimately, I’m a better leader because of it.
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Before you’re living it, it’s hard to imagine doing both “jobs” without sacrificing quality one side or the other. Leaders in particular tend not to broadcast when they prioritize family matters over work for fear of being perceived as uncommitted to the company or to clients. On top of that, men often feel the weight of traditional gender roles and societal expectations that still exist around masculinity and fatherhood -- “bringing back the bacon” and all that. Ironically, many of the qualities that come from being an attentive father -- patience, empathy, compassion -- are qualities that represent contemporary leadership. They’re qualities that serve and empower, rather than dictate and instruct.
Parenting has taught me the real value of being present and vigilant in every moment. The speed at which children assimilate behaviors, actions, words and body language is incredible. There’s no edge and no jaded experience -- just pure, unadulterated learning. So you have to be hyper-aware of your influence. Don’t pick your nose. Don’t curse when you drop something. And leave the iPhone in a different room if you’re prone to checking it every 30 seconds. Children notice these things. If you’re not in the room with them physically, mentally and emotionally, that behavior will come back to you.
The same is true in leading a company or a team. The ability to stay present and aware is key to being more efficient at the office. There are times when multitasking doesn’t work, and it can be distracting or just plain disrespectful -- yet there are plenty of people who tend to see multitasking as a badge of honor. I’m a firm believer in “do one thing well.” If a meeting or conference call is worth having, it needs your undiluted focus and attention. That way you can do it in 15 minutes rather than an hour. Respectful attentiveness sets a powerful example, helping create a climate of validation and allowing everyone to flourish.
Time is also an important factor. I want to make sure my children see me and that I see them. Given that I travel a lot with work, it’s even more important to make the time I am home really count. Heading to the office before breakfast and getting home after bedtime every day is not good for our family. Absentee daddy-ing is not going to make me a better or more productive leader or a good father and husband. Quite the opposite.
As a consequence, since becoming CEO, I work in a very different way than I did before. I can say without hesitation I spend less time at my desk. I now work smarter. I’m more selective about where I give my time and energy within the company, ensuring I have enough time for my family. The result is that I am actually more productive and a better leader. I’ve been able to empower others and share more openly and more effectively. I think I’ve become a better judge of talent and commitment. I’m more open to discussions on flexible working and managing around parental commitments. And I think all that helps make the company a better and more productive place.
Frankly, being family-first can be some of the best CEO training there is. It’s giving me an understanding of the importance of prioritization and helping people achieve personal and professional ambitions. Working with my wife to raise our children has taught me more about time management and multitasking than any professional experience I’ve had. That’s why I proudly and vocally put my family first, and I encourage others to do the same. In the end, the lessons in leadership you learn away from the workplace may lead to a company culture that feels more like family.
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