…time with your children is also a time of personal renewal. Interacting with children engages different parts of our character and anchors us to a purpose beyond our work roles. It allows us to experience a greater range of emotions and even changes the neurochemistry of our brains.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Ed Tyson.
Ed is a California-based author, executive coach and strategy consultant. He is the CEO of PerSynergy Consulting and architect of the LeadershipSOPs, an innovative leadership framework and methodology aimed at activating the world’s leaders. His new book, From Expert to Executive: Mastering the ABCs SOPs of Leading, focuses on the challenges leaders face as they step away from the technical work they have mastered and toward the lesser-known world of leading.
Thank you so much for joining us Ed! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I was born and raised in Central Pennsylvania. I was a natural extrovert, but childhood asthma forced me into prolonged periods of internal reflection without the ability to share my thoughts (it was both torturous and wonderful). The asthma waned in adolescence and I worked hard to strengthen my lungs and stamina through a variety of endurance sports.
My drive to be tougher landed me in the Marine Corps Reserve. My love of reflection landed me in the philosophy department at Pennsylvania State University. In the end, my brain won, and my body broke. I suffered a shoulder injury during training which limited my service to a single, six-year enlistment.
Around the same time, I enrolled in a course titled, Sects and Cults. It had a dual focus on the belief systems of some of the world’s most infamous fledgling religions and the cultural dynamics which tended to pervade them. The members of these movements were frequently raised in the “outside” world and yet were completely transformed by the new and aberrant mores of the small group dynamic. I was hooked. The course served as springboard into the world of organizational psychology and behavior.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
After graduating from Temple University with a master’s degree in adult organizational development, I wasn’t convinced my book-learning was enough to warrant an immediate entrance into the world of consulting. Instead, I transitioned from the trade association I worked at during graduate school to a publicly-traded, healthcare company — and so began a decade or so of ladder-climbing which culminated in an executive-level strategy role, reporting to the CEO of a 40,000-person company in Irvine, California. Eventually, I worked myself out of a job as our long-term investment strategy required us to take the company private.
In December of 2012, I finally found myself with the funding and confidence necessary to declare myself ready to set up shop as an executive coach and business consultant. For the first several years, I relied heavily on my network for referrals and basically said “yes” to everything. Eventually, I recognized the need to differentiate my services from the pack and extend beyond my initial customer base.
Some serious self-reflection led to a painful admission — I didn’t need better marketing; I needed a better process. I started to ask myself hard questions I supposedly already had the answers to, like “What is leadership?” What began as a marketing journey ended up transforming how I looked at myself, my business and my future contributions to the world.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
Pre-pandemic, my days typically started with a 50-mile journey south to San Diego or north to Los Angeles, frequently in my mobileCoach, a Mercedes Sprinter van converted into an office and private, roving meeting space. My business has traditionally been a mix between executive coaching, organizational design and strategy work. As a result, most days are filled with a combination of all three — with the exception of a spattering of full-day facilitations here and there.
The pandemic has brought with it a radical change to my daily routine. I have traded a minimum of three hours of driving time for extra morning and evening time with my family. Initially, I experienced a sharp decline in new work, which I used to finish the edits to my book, but now my existing and prospective clients seem to be moving forward with new coaching and consulting engagements, finding their new normal amidst the global quarantine. Like most others, I find myself leveraging technology more than ever to do things remotely my clients would have previously thought unwise or impossible.
The notable exceptions to this “recovery” are full-day trainings and conference keynotes. Both continue to be pushed out in favor of in-person experiences later in the year.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
While my professional expertise aligns more with adult development than early childhood development, I think the evidence is clear on this. Young brains are like fish in a tank — their growth is proportional to their environment. Starved of information and experience, they are stunted. Nourished with data and diversity of experience, they grow exponentially.
Further, my work with executives from all personal and cultural backgrounds suggests our notions of self and the “rules” of social engagement we develop in our youths are frequently the very things holding us back from our best selves mid-life. Embedding these lessons into your interactions with children sets us collectively on a path to a brighter future.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
The future of the world aside, time with your children is also a time of personal renewal. Interacting with children engages different parts of our character and anchors us to a purpose beyond our work roles. It allows us to experience a greater range of emotions and even changes the neurochemistry of our brains.
The link between happiness (and the absence of prolonged stress) and better physical health has been known for some time, but recent studies are also showing emotional diversity could be as important, if not more valuable to our physical well-being.
Regardless of what the quantitative research says, I can say confidently that children energize us. Don’t believe me? After the pandemic passes, watch the before, during and after of a child’s visit to a skilled nursing facility. The impact is undeniable. The vitality children possess is palpable.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
I do my best parenting outside the house. Whenever possible, I take my toddler (my eldest is now out of the house) on mini adventures. Whether it’s as mundane as a trip to the store or as grandiose as setting sail, I know I am more present and engaged in his world when I am more fully removed from mine.
During the pandemic, I have extended this idea to playing in different parts of the house and taking imaginary journeys to places of his choosing. I find it impossible to create an imaginary world without stepping into it myself. The quarantine has also brought with it more online shopping than ever before, which means more boxes of all shapes and sizes. We have begun letting the boxes sit for a few days (out of an abundance of caution) and then putting them to use as toys, building houses and garages, submarines and rocket ships. We play with them until they start to fall apart, recycle them and then start again with a new set. It has been a great way to reduce screen time and digital toy overload.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.
Executives must differentiate their work from their teams’ work. Most executives are “under water” precisely because they are trying to both lead the team and do its work. As an executive coach, I help leaders assess their role and reorganize their work lives using strategic, sequenced, and scheduled leadership systems I call LeadershipSOPs. To clarify, these are not my one-size-fits-all LeadershipSOPs. They are my clients’ customized standard operating procedures for structuring, operating and perfecting their own communities of effort.
The key to untangling oneself from a 24/7, seven-day-a-week, unfinishable job is stepping back and looking at how the entire community of effort is structured, ensuring it is being operated as designed, and committing to a continuous process whereby it can be perfected over time. When we dig in, my clients typically find the problem is inherent in the design of the group — either because the organizational “ask” has shifted but the structure hasn’t or the number of types of resources has evolved without a corresponding change to the organization.
To solve for this problem, I advise re-SCOPE-ing your WORK. Where SCOPE stands for Strategy, Culture, Objectives, Purpose and Ecosystem and WORK stands for Work methods, Organizational structures, Rewards and recognition and Knowledge and capabilities.
Start by examining your ecosystem and how it interacts. Think about the primary ways the team contributes to the parties within the ecosystem (i.e. reaffirm the purpose of the team). Establish your long-term objectives (or vision) and short-term goals. Review the culture you have and the culture you need. Then use all of this information to develop or reaffirm your winning strategies, which should serve as your high-level themes for both resource deployment and action.
Of course, going through this process alone is of little use, the point is to do it with your entire team and maybe even some key stakeholders. I refer to this process as SCOPE Alignment. It is a powerful first step in reorganizing your world. The key to completing this journey, however, is infusing your new SCOPE into your WORK:
- How does it inform the work methods and technologies?
- What roles, number of roles, and governance are required to create the right organizational structure(s)?
- Do you need to adjust your reward and recognition systems to encourage new behaviors?
- How will you secure the new knowledge and capabilities necessary to implement your design and deliver the SCOPE?
As you take these steps with your team, your job (and everyone else’s job for that matter) should be designed to provide for the kind of work-life balance necessary to safely and effectively pursue the organization’s SCOPE and your own personal SCOPE.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
Interestingly enough, I see a strong parallel here with how I define the purpose of leading and how I look at parenting. In both cases, we are trying to work ourselves out of a job. As executives, our ultimate aim is to cultivate communities of effort that can thrive without us. This is how we achieve the efficiency and scalability to continue to accept more responsibility or move on to new opportunities.
Similarly, as parents our objective is happy, healthy and well-adjusted children who are capable of thriving with, and ultimately, without us. Of course, I don’t think we should give today away for tomorrow, but it does strike me that being clear on where we are trying to go should inspire the processes we deploy to get there.
For me, this translates into letting my oldest son struggle with problems I could easily resolve. I find it excruciatingly difficult to watch but I know he needs to grow stronger through the struggle and that I to do need to keep a careful eye on the situation, despite the discomfort. Because, if I turn my head, I am unable to spot that fine line between the healthy struggle I want to encourage and a situation which may require my intervention.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
Like all lessons we try to teach, we undermine our intent if we don’t live it ourselves. “Do as I say and not as I do,” was never an effective argument. They Baby Boomers chipped away at it. Generation X cracked it open and the Millennials turned it to dust. If we carry on as if the best parts of our lives have already been lived, they may hear the message but they won’t see what it looks like to do the real work it takes to run down their own dreams. They will be left to take their cues from YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.
When I was a single-parent in my mid-twenties, my adult son looked on as I scrambled to put together a professional career outside of the military. For years, we talked about my dream to open my own company. One of my proudest days was when I overhead him tell a friend I had finally done it. Listing to him tell the story with genuine excitement was an unsuspected surprise I will never forget. Now, twenty years later, my youngest has watched with interest as I reach for yet another dream, publishing my first book. He’s only three but he knows what a book is, and he can’t wait to tear into mine (probably literally).
The point is we may think they aren’t paying attention or that they don’t even care. But experience has taught me they are ALWAYS paying attention and they ALWAYS care. If we want them to dream, we need to dream. If we want them to know what the real work looks like, we have to show them.
We can’t give our dreams to our children, but we can share them.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
Yesterday’s success is today’s standard and tomorrow’s failure. Success is a process; it fails to exist the moment we stop engaging in it. Similarly, finding balance in our lives cannot be “achieved,” only “pursued.” I do it better some days than others, but I never stop seeking that sweet spot. When I shift too far from my center, I evaluate my personal SCOPE. I remind myself of my ecosystem; my purpose; my objectives, cultural beliefs and strategies; and, then I rebalance the WORK.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
Not long after Will Smith’s movie, The Pursuit of Happiness, debuted, I was able to hear the man the story was based on, Chris Gardner, speak. By then, I was re-married and no longer a single parent, but I had not yet achieved any of the “big” dreams I had shared with my son when it was just the two of us. Hearing Chris first-hand and reading his book shifted me into high gear at work and at home. It was the right nudge at the right time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When the student is ready, the teacher appears. When the student is truly ready … the teacher disappears.” The first part of this quote is more well-known than the second; and the origins of both are of some debate. I first heard it attributed to Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching; however, I have read many translations of the 81 short chapters of the Tao Te Ching and never encountered the phrase in whole or part.
Whoever the originator, it has lived on because it rings true. When we are not ready, no lessons are learned, hence nothing is taught…and the teacher is naught. And yet, when we are open and ready, our teachers are abundant. As a coach, I live this truth every day. Even at my best and wisest, I cannot create a change in an unwilling mind. I can only enter if I am welcomed in.
On the flip side, there is truth to our need to extend beyond our teachers, our leaders, and our parents. It is not healthy or helpful to only be a student and never step from the shadows of our guides. For this reason, coaches, mentors, teachers, and parents must be ready to step aside.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
As it happens, I am on a mission to inspire movement of sorts. I am trying mightily to activate one million leaders this year. My goal is to help them shift their gaze away from the objectives and technical work which drive them and toward the communities of effort they must cultivate to succeed. Leadership is born when we act to engage others to achieve something we cannot achieve alone. However, every minute leaders spend obsessing over goals and technical puzzles, robs them of time that should be spent focusing on their teams and people puzzles, pushing them closer to the slippery slope of letting “the ends justify the means.”
Tragically, this isn’t just harmful to the “troops.” It often results in these leaders reaching their so-called “ends” without the “means” to succeed. They either fail at the outset or fail to scale. Either way, they fail; their teams fail; and their organizations flounder.
Many leaders have heard this message before (and have nodded their heads in agreement) but the time was not right. They were not ready to act. I am looking for the one million leaders who are ready. Whether they are just awakening to the awesome responsibilities of their role, seasoned veterans looking to take things to the next level, or mentors struggling to pass their knowledge on to the next generation, the LeadershipSOPs provide both the framework (areas of focus) and the methodology (repeatable process) for success.
Practicing the LeadershipSOPs does not require a coach. By developing and deploying repeatable standard operating procedures for structuring, operating, and perfecting your communities of effort, you can translate what you already know into tangible and consistent action by:
- Creating the opportunity for rapid learning through repetition (practice does make perfect).
- Fostering enhanced collaboration through repeatable team “plays.”
- Installing a more formal personal leadership platform for continuous improvement and simplified mentorship.
Take action today and help me do something I could never do alone!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!