The stress of “balancing” work and your children is a real challenge.
Rock, paper, scissors – a game played literally and figuratively among working parents as they work together to try and manage it all.
And there’s also something magical that happens when your work world and kid world collide. And collide they do.
Conference calls in the pick up line. Emails while half watching their practice or game. Making dinner, answering homework questions and typing an email to your boss gymnastics.
I’m here to tell you … The collisions aren’t all bad.
Kids can provide so much more if you truly engage with them and listen to what they have to say. Make them “part of stuff”, and you’ll be amazed at what happens.
When I was the CEO of PayFlex, I would talk to my kids from time to time about work. They typically acted like they didn’t care that much. But often weeks or months later, it was clear that they tuned in more than it appeared.
It was when I really started listening to my children that I realized they provide an incredible perspective that can literally help propel your business.
And what’s even better than the fact that they can propel your business is that they get a heck of a lot out of the experience, too.
Here are the top three things I found most helpful (for me, for others and for them) from my kid consultants:
1. They Will Force You to Communicate More Clearly
Last year, we held our bi-annual customer forum in nearby Boston. The last day was on my daughter Ella’s 10th birthday, and initially I told her that I was sorry I was going to miss it.
Then about a week prior to the event, I thought, “No I’m not going to miss it. I’m going to go get her and bring her to Boston.”
That afternoon, I drove to Connecticut and brought her back up for the evening dinner to join us. This, of course, made her day/birthday, and I was so happy to have been able to balance both worlds.
And it was what happened the next day that made me realize there was more benefit in bringing her than just being able to celebrate her birthday with her.
Several of us gathered for breakfast the next morning. The intent was to debrief on the week’s events and discuss what went well and what we could improve for the next one.
After Ella finished her pancakes, she got bored and asked to take a pad of paper and sit under the table (she’s still a kid and it was a perfect tent).
I thought she was likely sketching some pictures. But after about 15 minutes, she came out from under the table and quietly handed me her notepad.
On the notepad at the top, it said, “Words I don’t know that you said.”
Ella went on to list about 40 words that clearly were jargon. They always say you should write your communications at the fifth-grade level, and this was the perfect test!
I immediately handed the paper to our head of marketing and told her to remove all of those words from our marketing materials!
You don’t necessarily need to have your children listen into meetings or make lists. Try things such as testing sample email headlines with them. Or talk to them about a new product. If they don’t understand it, chances are your customers won’t, either.
Kids are beautifully selfish – they want to know exactly what it is and what’s in it for them. That’s also the best way to engage your adult audience.
• What Ella learned: To speak her mind. This event showed Ella that it’s good to give her two cents and see her “work” pay off. Mommy listened to her that day, and her company made a change because of it.
2. They Provide Feedback to You in the Most Beautifully Authentic Way
This fall, I was on our porch working on some stuff for my new biz, bauthenticinc. My 7-year-old son, Mick, came and sat next to me. He asked me what I was working on. I told him I was working on some things for my new business.
He looked at me and so quickly and succinctly said, “I bet your new business is going to be way better than you expect it to be. When I do something new, it always turns out way better than I expected.”
That right there is confidence. A confidence level I have yet to achieve. It is also precisely the very thing I needed most as I transitioned to my new career path!
Kids don’t encourage you because you’re their mother, father, aunt or friend. They are just absurdly honest creatures. They encourage you because they truly believe in you and believe in what they’re saying.
Ask children how they feel about things … Engage them in the work you’re doing … Seek their opinions.
You will get way more than you expect. It’s not going to be all good. But it’s going to be accurate.
I have also had my children tell me just as many times, for example, that a video we did for the business was boring, or how the idea I had for my new business didn’t make sense. It’s incredibly valuable to have these non-biased, no frills opinions … for free! (Well, maybe not entirely “free.”)
• What Mick and Ella learned: That their input is valuable. And that they, too, can start a business. Ella is my co-founder in another business I’m working on. And Mick has been working feverishly on his idea for a banana video game for kids (he’s got a name, logo, business requirements and now is learning how to code … at the age of 7!).
3. You Can Learn Amazing Leadership Skills by Learning from Them and Practicing on Them
Leadership is a complicated word. We all know it’s the Holy Grail – if you can get “leadership” right, then everything else is buttah. But defining leadership is often difficult.
I was on a business trip last year. While out to dinner with the team that evening, my husband sent me a picture of our daughter’s first-ever Student Council application. She had to answer several questions, including “What do you think are the most important characteristics of a leader?” Her answer – “To be kind to others, to help others, and to be ready for everything.”
Man, I wish she would have handed me that statement a long time ago. The simplicity and power of that statement is everything it should be.
Ask your children or other children what they expect from a good leader. Consequently, ask them what a good leader shouldn’t do. The purity of their answers will likely propel you forward like you couldn’t imagine.
It’s also very helpful to test your leadership on kids. One of the things I am incredibly guilty of is being a great inspirational leader at work … and then I get home. I often forget to inspire my children. And I definitely forget to inspire my husband.
I fall into bad habits. For example, instead of inspiring my family to do things, instead I often just do it myself. Not at all how I lead at work.
Last year, getting the kids on the bus felt like being on Food Network’s Chopped. I nearly had a flippin’ heart attack every … single … morning. Sound familiar?
I would wake up super early. Get my workout in. Get showered. Get the kids up. Do everything for them. Yell at them 20 times. And just barely make the bus.
No matter how much time I had, I seemed to end up exhausted and with anxiety every morning. On the contrary, if my husband were on morning duty, he would tell me how they were ready early every time with no issues.
I realized that by having a morning strategy that relied on me doing nearly everything, the kids felt disabled and not part of the solution. And, thus, change management failed every time.
This year, instead of being ready when they got up, instead of being available to “do it all,” I purposefully moved my routine back half an hour. That meant I was getting myself ready at the same time they needed to get ready.
I also had a “strategy session” with the kids just before school started. I talked about the change to the routine, and why it needed to change, i.e., so I didn’t die an early death. I also wanted to encourage and pump them up to be the ones who created our morning success.
I can’t begin to tell you the impact. 180 degrees. I’m happy to say our mornings are full of much more peace and success.
Employees are no different. I have seen way too many leaders try to do it all, myself included. They feel like their job is to run around and either do it all, or continually oversee it all. There isn’t anything more disabling for employees.
Give it a practice. Start small by picking a meeting or project. You don’t have to be stealth about it, either. Forecast to your team that you’re doing something different. Tell them why. And seek their input. Try it with your spouse or kids, too. Baby steps will go a long way.
• What Mick and Ella learned: They learned important lessons about what leadership is and isn’t. Whether it was the validation that Ella got for her definition of a leader or them realizing that getting out the door in the morning took leadership, not just brute force, they slowly built their awareness and practice of leadership.
All of the benefits I talked about feel short term. But the real benefit will come many years in the future.
Involving your children in what you do, the challenges you conquer and the risks you take will likely provide them with incredible conscious and unconscious fuel when they start adulting themselves.
They will look back with pride and “ah-ha”s at those moments you brought them in.
So, embrace those kid consultants. Cherish them, leverage them and inspire them. They will not only help you. The lessons you share will make them better leaders in future years to come.
What inspiring feedback have you ever gotten from you kid or others’ children?