As I mentioned in a previous Huffington Post piece, I recently had my first child. As the CEO of a startup, I felt that everything I had learned along the entrepreneurial way would make for an easier transition into parenthood. What I wasn't expecting was just how much being a parent would positively impact my business. Here are five things I have learned as a parent that have helped me better my business:
Cooler Heads Always Prevail
As a parent, especially a new parent, you quickly realize that spontaneous moments--or surprises--are part of the game and will most definitely arrive when your schedule is tight and your sleep is a bit deprived. You always have two choices in how to respond to such moments: cool as a cucumber or troubled as a turnip.
You forgo the freak out over a diaper disaster that happens just as you are about to walk out the front door and instead take a few deep breaths to calm the nerves. Why? Because you know that being cool--especially in the midst of surprise moments--is how you make good decisions and how you prevent others from freaking out with you. "If there is any place that can compete with parenthood on facing surprises, it is probably a startup," says Rubayat Khan in a recent post. "Unless you can keep your cool in those trying moments, you fail on the same two fronts--damage control and setting an example."
Practice What You Preach
Although my child is young, I already know that she will be watching my every move. She will be seeing if the words I speak are matching the actions that I take and if they don't she will be far less likely to believe in the values that I have for us as a family--that I have for us as individuals. Parents are the very first role models children see and what we do and say holds a lot of weight in who they will become.
"In a startup, you as the founder or CEO, in addition to other top executives, are the role models. What you do will influence your company much more that what you say," writes Khan. "You should determine what behaviors you would like to see in your team and lead by example consistently and unfailingly." In addition to walking the proverbial walk, you need to be consistent with your actions and the rules that you set. Whoever said that rules were meant to be broken might have been an entrepreneur, but they were not a CEO running a business. Breaking the rules is great when thinking outside of the box and being creative, but it creates challenges in a working environment.
As soon as you have a child it appears everyone you know is an expert in what you need to do. When you get caught up in what others think is the "right" way to do things, you begin to second-guess your own instincts and experience, you begin to focus too much on the grass being greener on the neighbor's side of the fence instead of concentrating on what would really make your own space a brighter shade of green.
Advice is great--seeking the wise wisdom of mentors and friends you trust is a great rule for both business and parenting success. We learn a great deal about our own situations when we hear from others. However, you are always the best judge of your own reality. Someone once said "hear others, but listen to yourself." You always know best what will work for you, your company and your family.
Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is a great reminder of just how much of life we seem to miss when we are always on the go. The wide-eyed optimism and curiosity of kids teaches us to not only be mindful of the present, but hopeful for the future. After all, is anything more hopeful than a child who sees a rocket ship instead of a refrigerator box? Everyday is filled with new possibilities, allowing us to stay motivated and energized even when the day gets tough.
A study on "Managerial Attitudes and Corporate Actions" found that CEOs who were optimistic about life in general were also more optimistic about their businesses--making them more willing to take risks and better able to see that daily challenges were actually just new opportunities to learn and grow. Practice mindfulness at the office (I shared some tips for productive mindfulness here) and try to look at your business through the same fresh lens of optimism and curiosity that comes from being a parent.
Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
Nothing reminds you about the importance of time management more than having a child. Getting out the door by 7:00 AM is no longer a given, it is a carefully-scheduled plan that moves you from wake up to breakfast to commute (always leaving time for those unexpected morning moments--see #1). You learn to prioritize which tasks are most important (being completely dressed) and which tasks can sometimes be left unfinished (not finishing your cup of coffee) in order to get you and your family through the day.
Getting out of the office is pretty much the same dance--I no longer want to linger at a networking event or attend an evening meeting if it doesn't directly affect the growth of my company. I now focus on quality over quantity and have become more efficient with my time at home and at work. The long "to do" lists of tasks have been replaced by more focused--and much shorter--lists of those things that I need to do in order to move the company forward. I ask myself these 3 questions:
1. Do I personally add value to this task?
2. Should someone else be dealing with it?
3. Do I need to do it right now?
I knew motherhood would be a big change for me, but I was surprised to see the changes it made in me as a CEO and the benefits it would bring to my company.