“Wait, what did I say, what did I do?”
It was 2015, my girls were 11, and this was a regular conversation and occurrence in our house. Almost constant.
I consider myself to be emotionally intelligent and a thoughtful and caring parent and leader. But when it came to parenting my daughters, my perspective was outdated, so my emotional intelligence, thoughtfulness and caring was off the mark.
In 1999, my son was born. In 2004, my wife gave birth to our second and third children, twin girls Anna and Ellie. That day, my wife and I moved from double coverage to zone. That was the easy part. Over the coming years I came to appreciate that things were different for my girls then they were for my son. Play dates were different, conversations were different, sports felt different and even school was different. But unfortunately I wasn’t different. I did not evolve. I just applied the same thinking and parenting approach I had applied with my son.
My girls educated me — or as they like to say, they “schooled me.” I prefer to say (proudly) that they helped me build my awareness, which has led to positive actions and changes in my beliefs. I’m not sure I will ever be able to properly thank them for that. But I can start by sharing my experience and what it has done for me.
Let me take you on my journey
I think there is a lot of applicability between what I’ve learned as a parent and what we need to continue to do as leaders in the workplace. Given that International Women’s Day is next week, I thought it would be appropriate to share the journey my girls took me on, and how it’s made me evolve and be better.
Let’s start with what didn’t drive me to evolve. It wasn’t by following policy and or by glossing over involvement by saying “call me if you need me.” It came through work and effort by everyone, and most importantly, it came from deep love, caring, trust and humility. It also included a super healthy dose of listening, not talking. I had to own the need and desire to evolve and expect more of myself. It required me to recognize my own responsibility to make the world a better place for my girls. As with most big things in my life, I started by engaging the support and wisdom of my best business partner, my wife.
My wife and I started by creating space for my girls to share their thoughts, concerns and beliefs. They felt comfortable pushing back when we disagreed. They were not blaming, they were explaining and we were listening. They expected change and support. We gave them both. They could push on me, even though I was their dad and an adult figure in their life.
The truth is some of my perspectives were outdated. When we all recognized that, and I could admit it, really cool stuff started to happen. They felt comfortable challenging my thinking. I wanted the challenge. I could see I needed a fresh perspective. I felt urgency because I wanted my girls to thrive in life. My wife and I prepare them to thrive on a personal level, but another part of their ability to thrive is in how we help society appreciate the need for change in school, business, and in the world at large.
The learning is powerful and ongoing
I had to show up. I had to acknowledge that my age and role in the family did not make me all knowing. My experiences and learnings were not always 100% applicable to them. I had to step back and look at what I was communicating before I could step forward and act in the way they needed me to. So I continued to listen, but I added some actions along the way.
I read some books, like Lean In. I volunteered to work with the SEI Women’s Network and got involved in their events. Why? To take advantage of an amazing initiative and opportunity that is paving the way for future women leaders, right in our own backyard. I did this to continue to learn and be fully vested in being better personally.
As a result, I learned a lot:
- How I approach a meeting and voice my ideas are driven not only by my experience, training, and preparation, but also unconsciously by my gender.
- My girls are smart, prepared and willing to share their voice, but they do it differently. Some of this difference is style, but another part of it is gender.
- I’ve began to see the world through a different lens and it makes sense to me. I have much more appreciation for the impact of diversity in thought. I now notice things I may have previously missed.
- I now ask different questions in meetings, and am more deliberate with how I solicit the voice of others.
I am a self-proclaimed work in progress. My girls would say I am 50% of the way there. They expect more and so do I. But learning makes me a better dad, husband and leader. For that I am grateful and proud. So while I still get “DAD!$#”, it is not as frequent and it’s usually accompanied with a smile and a gentle push to be better.
The 2021 International Women’s Day theme is #choosetochallenge. This year, I #choosetochallenge myself to continue to step forward, listen more, talk less and act. With my girls in my heart, and helping to drive change in the workplace on my mind, I applied for a position with the SEI Women’s Network Board.
My girls are also setting up a women’s affinity group at their school, and I’ve offered to help. I am not asking what can I do, I am engaged in trying to do something. Part of that is reading, learning and discussing. Another part is challenging the status quo, and asking “why?”
To my girls - thank you! I could not have gotten here without your wisdom and guidance. I want you to know I see you, I hear you and I love you! I will always be willing to learn and grow along side of you.