Recently, I stood in front of a group of Japanese exchange students holding an index card with a question on it. “What has been your most difficult leadership position?”
The answer popped into my head almost immediately. I didn’t think of the many leadership positions I have held in my church. The stressful Air Force leadership positions I once filled didn’t cross my mind. I never even gave my titles as an airline Captain or Check Airman a thought. “The most difficult leadership position I have ever held,” I told them almost without hesitation, “Is being a father.”
Before any of you mothers out there get your dander up, I tip my hat to motherhood as well. I merely stated that being a father is the most difficult leadership role I have ever held, not that fatherhood is the most difficult leadership role out there. I have never been, and never will be, a mother. So, in answering the question, I was limited to the roles I have held. This is an expression about my experience as a father, but it certainly applies to a woman’s experience as a mother. Parenting is the most difficult leadership role in the world.
|Trying to organize the family photo|
Leading a family is the most difficult task in the world for several reasons.
1) Your family knows where you buried the bodies. Remember that time you decided to burn the leftover boxes from Christmas in the fireplace and set off all the smoke alarms after midnight and almost burned the house down? Or how about the time you backed into a telephone pole with your minivan because you were shouting at your boys for fighting? If you have done something in front of your family that is embarrassing, shameful, or might land you in jail, your family will remember. It’s tough to lead a group of people who know how imperfect you are. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes, or pretend that you’re perfect. They know who you really are. They know where you’ve buried the dead bodies of your temper tantrums, your broken promises, your lies, and your failures. It’s tough to lead a family, because your family knows you aren’t anywhere close to perfect.
2) Your children will pick up your bad habits before they develop your good habits. Have you ever had to wash your child’s mouth out with soap because they repeated a swear word they heard you utter? Have you ever put your child in time out for behaving like you? Bad habits will always be duplicated sooner, and more often, than good habits. A child will do what you do long before they will do what you say, even if what you are telling them is better for them. You can put on a good face at work and hide or minimize your bad habits, but not at home. It’s tough to lead an organization that is quick to repeat your bad habits, and slow to develop your good habits.
3) Your children know where you sleep. Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” When you have worked a long day and your toddler crawls into bed with you because he’s afraid of the dark, you find out what you are really made of. It’s tough to be brave and lead when it’s 1:00 AM and your teenager is still out on prom night and you can’t sleep even though you have to get up at 6:00 AM and go to work. Everybody can keep their cool and make good decisions when they get eight hours of uninterrupted rest. Only a parent understands the challenge of running a household full of energetic grade-school children when you’re sleep deprived, without snapping someone’s head off. Only a parent can appreciate the struggle to remain sane when you can’t remember what it’s like to sleep without someone kicking you in the kidneys all night long. Leading a family is difficult because you are constantly fighting fatigue.
4) Your children don’t know and don’t care how important you are at work. I don’t care if you are the CEO of Apple, the Rear Admiral of a Naval shipyard, or Supreme Court Justice, and neither do your children. Your children don’t care about how many lives you saved that day, or how much money you made on that big deal you closed. Your children aren’t impressed by some fancy title or corner office with windows on two sides. All your children care about is what you are going to fix for dinner and if you will let them stay up and play a game past their normal bedtime. The world may bow at your feet or shower you with accolades, but when you cross the threshold of your home the only title that matters is Daddy. To lead a family you can’t pull rank or rely on some earned status. Leading as a parent is difficult because parents have to lead in the moment without the help or trappings of authority.
5) You can’t quit from being a parent. No matter how old you get, you will always be the father of your children. There is no finish line. There is no retirement. There is no quitting. It is true that you can simply give up, or abandon, your children, but that only shifts the burden to someone else, not the responsibility. Children will look to you as a parent (good or bad) for the rest of your (and their) life. The job of a parent does evolve over time, and the task loading does wane as children grow older, but the job is never complete. Once a parent, always a parent. Parenting is not for quitters.
Yes, leading as a father is the toughest thing I have ever done, but it also the most rewarding. Your children may know of your biggest faults, but they will also love you when you don’t deserve it. Your children may pick up your bad habits, but they will also surprise you with their ingenuity and accomplishment. Your children may deprive you of sleep, but they will also reenergize you with their sense of wonder and zest for life. Your children may not respect you for your titles and accomplishments in the workplace, but they will look up to you because of (and in spite of) who you really are. You may not be able to quit being the father to your children, but why would you ever want to?
|The Family Photo|