Have you ever been faced with a challenge that you don’t know how to handle? Were you ever in a situation where you felt overwhelmed and unprepared?
We’ve all been there. My instinct in these situations is to reach for a book. Nowadays it might also be a YouTube video, or a Lynda.com course. But when it comes to big subjects, I still like to dive into a book.
Books, the good ones anyway, provide you with principles to use in a multitude of situations. Books take you into the lives of other real people, their mistakes and their triumphs.
Early in my career, I was fortunate; I got a lot of great coaching. But it was mostly job specific coaching, it wasn’t strategic life guidance. When it came to figuring out who I was, and more importantly, who I wanted to be, I found the answers in books. Books like The Road Less Traveled, the writings of Thomas Jefferson and the biography of Pamela Churchill Hayward Harriman, helped me figure out how I wanted to show up for the world.
We often silo our lives into work, home, romance, etc. But you’re the same person in every endeavor. You may have different roles, but your character traits, work habits, and the way you connect with others are the through lines that transcend your roles.
When I first became a parent, at the ripe old age of 29, I felt woefully unprepared. My own childhood had been less than ideal. I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother, and I wanted something different for my family.
So I turned to books. I bought every parenting book I could find. Over time, I noticed, most of the books were tactical. They were how-to manuals to get your baby to sleep or your toddler to behave. I wanted something more. I needed a more holistic strategic approach to this daunting endeavor.
In my mind, I wasn’t just taking care of a child; I was raising the future President of the United States. The world was going to be counting on her. So yes, I wanted my toddler to behave just as much as the next parent. But what I really needed was to develop her thought processes. She is going to have her finger on the button! No one is going to care whether she lost it at McDonalds when she was two. When she’s controlling the nuclear codes, what matters in that moment is her character, her strength and her decision-making.
For parenting advice, I ultimately turned to leadership books and biographies. What did Nelson Mandela think about in jail? Why was Anne Frank so insightful about human nature? Why did PT Barnum start his circus? What motivated Susan B Anthony? How did Covey’s “Seven Habits” apply to preschool?
These were the conversations I had with my kids over the years. Was I a perfect parent? Surely not. But now, at the ages of 23 and 18, I can see that my kids benefited from those leadership conversations. I can say with confidence, they are both grateful, responsible, kind, assertive, hardworking, strategic thinkers.
One of my favorite leaders, Popeye’s CEO Cheryl Bachelder says, “Leadership is not about your ambition, it’s about bringing out the ambition of your team.”
Leadership is leadership no matter where you practice it. Your job is to help make the next group of humans better than the last group.