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Parenthood and Leadership
Dr. Farid A. Muna
Meirc Training & Consulting
There is a very strong link between child upbringing and leadership success.
Studies show that what happens in the early years of life impacts not only a person’s self-motivation but could also provide the necessary ingredients for future success in organizational leadership. So, what should parents do to prepare their children for potential leadership positions? This brief article suggests some specific advice on this topic, most of which appeared in my earlier articles and books.
However, a word of caution is in order before getting too excited about making your child a future leader: start by determining what type of aptitude, and the blend of intelligences, which your child has. Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard University (2006) described multiple intelligences in humans, as shown below:
Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
(Source: www.mypersonality.info/multiple-intelligences/howard-gardner/ , accessed 10 May 2012.)
Clearly, every occupation (or vocation) requires different types of intelligence. One would expect, for example, that an organizational leader needs to be strong in at least three of the eight intelligences: Logical and mathematical (represented by IQ); interpersonal (linked to Emotional Intelligence, EI); and visual/spatial (akin to vision and creativity). Although the multiple intelligences theory has been criticized by some, it makes more common sense than relying only on IQ and EI, or other personality theories. Most parents (and teachers) have observed the different intelligences among their children (and students). The implications of this theory are tremendous when one is looking at learning styles and teaching practices.
In brief, know your child well before trying to influence him or her. Also, it is important to keep in mind the wise words of Khalil Gibran on children:
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
(Source: Khalil Gibran, The Prophet)
Now we are ready to discuss five specific pieces of advice for bringing up future leaders:
First, be a good role model to your children.
Being a good role model is the best way to teach a child work ethics, integrity, honesty, love of continuous learning, and the value of time, money, and hard work—these early ingredients for success are extremely valuable later in life. Most, if not all, cannot be learned later in life. These qualities are taught by example—by “walking the talk”. You cannot ask your child to read books or magazines, for example, while he or she never sees you reading. It is similar to saying “don’t smoke” while having a cigarette in your mouth!
Second, give them responsibility as early as possible.
Start with small chores such as tidying up the room, helping set up the dinner table, washing the dishes or the car, and feeding the pets (if any). As they mature, add more responsibilities including summer or part-time work, volunteering for charitable or community organizations, and doing their own budget during school and later when attending university. In short, early responsibility prepares people for eventual careers—it is perhaps too late for a person to learn how to handle responsibility when one is in his or her early 20s.
Third, ensure that your children’s education is more than just getting good grades!
To start with, help them analyze and think through their school assignments rather than doing their homework for them! Avoid rote learning (they get enough of that at most schools); instead, encourage them to think analytically and creatively. Enrich their education: take them to cultural events, to museums, and to walks in the wild nature (including the desert).
Insist that they participate in extra-curricular activities: sports, music, arts and theater, school events, and other student activities. It is from such activities that your children learn teamwork, communication, social and emotional skills, and leadership. Again, it is simply too late to begin learning these competencies when people are starting a career.
Fourth, when your children become teenagers, start teaching them the “helicopter view” competency.
Some call this competency “breadth of outlook” or “peripheral vision” or “clarity of purpose”. This invaluable and powerful tool is used (a) for problem solving, (b) when facing crises, and (c) when developing strategies. Here are the three steps for learning the helicopter view:
- Distance yourself, both physically and mentally, from the problem or crisis facing you. I know, it takes practice, but it is the same when looking at a large wall map or a large painting in a museum. One has to step back in order to see the big picture—or seeing the forest for the trees. It is also like zooming in and out when using a camera, or using Google maps. If done properly, one can see the overall context without losing sight of the details. One can also see the inter-related problems that are usually there. Finally, one will avoid rushing to wrong conclusions, or making wrong assumptions about the root causes of the problem or crisis.
- Ask yourself: how would this problem or crisis look like 5 or 10 years from now? In other words, project yourself into the future and look back to the present situation. Recall similar crises that took place a few years ago: probably they were serious at that time, “the sky was falling down”, things looked very bleak, and the world was collapsing around you. When I ask people to do that, the typical response is a smile quickly followed by, “I’d forgotten all about it!” From a historic perspective, yesterday’s crises are seen as distant memories and as learning experiences. In strategy sessions, we ask executives to describe how their business or industry would like 5 or 10 years hence. By answering the question, they are starting to use the helicopter view.
- Once you have seen the big picture and the details, and once you have looked at the problem/crisis 5 or 10 years from now, and once you have found the root causes and alternative solutions, you ought to keep going up and down in the helicopter if and when you hit barriers or a wall. That action will keep you in the right direction, and avoids distractions from the desired goals. Imagine being lost in a large, dense forest: going up and down in the helicopter enables you to find directions out of the forest.
Fifth, let your children go—cut the umbilical cord; but keep giving them your unconditional love.
In other words, let them light their own candles. If you have followed the above advice, you are already on the way of helping your children build their own strong and durable candles. When the time comes for them to leave the brightness of your candle, they have to light their own candles—brightening the way for themselves and later for their own children. Here is a quotation from a personal note that I included in our latest book:
My wife and I were saying our farewells to our youngest daughter, Zeina, when she started her freshman year at Georgetown University. When my turn came to wish her luck and bid her farewell, I asked Zeina: “Do you have a match?” She quickly replied: “I don’t smoke, father!” A few long seconds passed, and then she said: “OK, I’ll light my candle.”
(Source: F. Muna and G. Khoury, The Palestinian Executive (forthcoming September 2012.)
Again, here is Gibran on children:
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
Finally, patience and perseverance are required in performing this most noble and pleasurable task of being a parent. John Quincy Adams said it well with these words: “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” And it is so true particularly when bringing up children.
- Gardner, Howard (2006), Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons, Basic Books, New York.
- Gibran, Kahlil (1973), The Prophet, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York (originally published in 1923).
- Muna, Farid and Khoury, Grace (forthcoming 2012), The Palestinian Executive: Leadership Under Challenging Conditions, Gower Publishing, Aldershot, UK.