Listen to what they care about and give them a voice. I can see when my daughter is going to be disengaged in a conversation because it doesn’t revolve around her (and she’s at an age where everything revolves around her.) That’s how you make progress.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview David Thomas, CEO and Co-Founder of Evident ID. David is a highly accomplished cybersecurity entrepreneur. Having held key leadership roles at market-pioneers Motorola, AirDefense, VeriSign, and SecureIT, he has a history of introducing innovative technologies, establishing them in the market, and driving growth — with each early-stage company emerging as the market leader. Today, as CEO of Evident, he and his co-founders help businesses quickly and accurately verify individuals’ identities and credentials without the risk and liability of handling sensitive personal data.
Thank you so much for joining us David! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
Work has been part of my life from a very early age. I had two working parents growing up, and when I was 10 years old, I began working with my dad during my summer breaks. I got my first real job at 13, and at 14, I started my first real company — a technology consulting business. I joined my first startup at 19, and had a short stint working at the Department of Defense. Work has always been deeply fulfilling for me, even at a young age, and I love seeing that same passion and drive in my kids.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
I’d worked for startups for the majority of my career, and at one point decided to step back and try working for a big company. I quickly decided it was not for me, and have been working for small companies ever since.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
Every day, I try to definitely be with my family for breakfast, and definitely be with them again for dinner. It’s only when I’m traveling that I can’t make it to both, but I try. I’ve planned my weekly schedule so that I’m only traveling on certain days, and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I aim to keep my travel confined to specific days because it minimizes interference with kids’ events. It’s highly aspirational, but when I’m at work, I’m focused on being 100% at work, and when I’m at home, I’m 100% at home, and that’s the most important part of my day.
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?
I find that my kids will rarely ask difficult questions without my prompting them to do so. If I’m not spending time with my children, I’m not having regular conversations with them, which means that they might be struggling with something important, and I’d never know. It’s important for me to talk to my kids regularly — it can’t be a drop-in, out-of-the-blue type of discussion. There has to be a comfort level with talking to them, and it has to be normal practice. Spending quality time together builds that rapport, so they can feel comfortable coming to me with difficult questions or topics.
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?
Building an ongoing relationship with my kids is very important to me. I don’t just tell them I’m there for them, I demonstrate that that I’m there for them by showing up for both the important events, as well as the mundane challenges, like helping with homework and teaching them how to study. Making time for my kids each day and building our relationship is the only way to help them advance their core skill sets and to provide assistance when they run into problems. My job as a parent is to give my kids the tools they need to navigate life successfully.
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?
- Dedicated one-on-one time with each child
- I always make it a point to schedule something for us to do by ourselves, together, and it can’t be something where we stay at home. I one time took my middle daughter to the circus on a daddy/daughter date, and to her, that is like “dad time.”
- Prioritize reading
- I started doing this when they were younger, and I was reading to them, but as they’ve gotten older and learned to read proficiently, now they’re reading to me, and that’s truly the most quality time for me and it’s something that they enjoy, too.
- Regular engagement
- Being on my phone around the kids with them sitting next to me on their phones is nowhere close to “quality time.” I take the time to unplug, talk to them, listen carefully to their responses, and actually have real interactions that they care about. 10 minutes of that is better than 2 hours of sitting next to each other on the couch with our phones or watching TV.
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.
- Phones go in a basket before dinner, and can’t be touched until the dishes are cleaned.
- Plan most of your time together instead of just allowing it to aimlessly exist.
- Listen to what they care about and give them a voice. I can see when my daughter is going to be disengaged in a conversation because it doesn’t revolve around her (and she’s at an age where everything revolves around her.) That’s how you make progress.
- Set a good example and show your kids how to spend quality time with you. Let them learn this from you, and don’t let them pick up the bad habits.
- Create some prepared, predictable questions that you can ask your kids at the dinner table each night. I always ask “What was the best part of your day?,” and it’s a ritual that my kids can count on. The meaningful, thoughtful conversations that stem from their answers not only encourage positivity, but also cement our bond as a family.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
My wife. She’s a busy startup executive, just like me, and she embodies all of the qualities of a great parent. She’s very in-tune with what our kids need and it’s because she listens to them carefully all the time.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
At an elementary age, I taught my kids critical thinking skills, and now they’re comfortable with questioning everything around them. If they’re willing to ask difficult questions, then you’ve got them on the right path toward thinking about how their ideas and actions can change the world.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
By keeping things in perspective, recognizing what makes me successful in each of the main roles that I play in my life, and remembering to balance my effort between them so I’m achieving success across multiple roles, not only in one at the expense of another. I usually find out pretty quickly if I’m off balance, because I won’t feel successful in any role. Believe it or not, I have both personal and professional KPIs, and I run my personal life like I run my business: by thinking about what I want to achieve, and building a strategy to work towards achieving it.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
The most influential book I’ve ever read is “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey, followed by “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl, and “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Goodness does not consist in greatness, but greatness in goodness.” — Athenaeus, 200 BC
People talk about achieving greatness as external validation that they’re doing great professional or personal work, but it’s not something that’s often recognized when it comes to family life. When you take a hard look at the real people in your life who are counting on you, it’s the everyday minutiae that matters — like making time for your kids and your partner — and to me, that equates to goodness, without which one cannot be great.
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. 🙂
I’d love to inspire a movement that helps people balance their lives so they can feel like they’re making progress on all fronts without feeling guilty that they’re dropping the ball. This is why my company, Evident, offers employees unlimited paid vacation, paid family leave, and a flexible work-from-home policy. Our employees are encouraged to work hard when they’re at work, but also to spend time with their friends and family when they’re not.