This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on November 30, 2016.
Like all working parents, I have sometimes struggled with balancing my responsibilities to an employer versus my responsibilities as a parent; however, make no mistake – my responsibilities as a parent will always come first. Like most men, I initially assumed my role in life was to be a provider for my family. When I looked at various career fields, my primary criteria was potential income instead of where I could best serve. After college and a tour of duty in the military, I started my career in the technology field and quickly rose through the ranks. Soon I was in management with ever increasing levels of responsibility. From the outside, I was on a very successful career path but on the inside, I was searching for my purpose. I was successful as a manager but had yet to learn the true meaning of leadership.
In my book Discerning Gods Purpose: A Father’s Journey from Tragedy to Triumph (available January 2017), I write that I didn’t truly become a leader until I became a parent. My journey as a parent started off in tragedy. I lost two children within their first 10 days of life and had a third who was fighting for her life. My daughter spent over three months in the hospital before being allowed to come home. It was during this dark time that God revealed to me my true purpose and that was to prepare my child for the work that God had for her. Later on, God expanded my purpose by adding two additional children to our family via adoption. By recognizing, understanding and living my purpose, I learned that true leadership is based on serving others.
During my first years as a parent, I changed careers, moved several times, and went from working in the private sector to working for the federal government, all in the name of fulfilling my role as a parent. As a result, the jobs that I passed on (not to mention the amount of money that went with them) were viewed by some as career suicide but to me, it demonstrated my growth as a leader. I had found my calling and that was worth much more than anything that money could buy. The lessons that I learned as a parent also allowed me to become a better leader at work. Here are 4 of the many lessons that I learned as a parent that allowed me to become the leader that I was meant to be:
Integrity – Growing up, my parents taught me that honesty was the best policy and that is a lesson that I passed on to my children as well. As a parent, I know that my children may not always listen to what I say but they watch what I do. They will also find ways to check the advice that I give them to see if what I am saying is correct. Sometimes I am wrong but integrity means admitting my mistake and then doing my best to correct it. This is the only way that I know of to earn and keep the trust of others.
Seek Wisdom – As a young parent, not only did I not know everything, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I learned that there is no shame in asking for help and surrounding oneself with people who were smarter than I. Knowledge is power and if you ask, people are more than willing to help.
Expect the Best – Although my daughter was born with developmental disabilities, I have the same expectations of her that I do of my other children and that is to give nothing less than their best. I learned that when I have high expectations, I receive high results. People naturally deliver whatever is expected, whether it be good or bad. When we expect the best, we are not serving ourselves but those around us.
Never Give Up – Hard work and persistence knows no boundaries. My parents taught me this lesson as a child but I really didn’t see this lesson come to life until I became a parent. Let’s not kid ourselves – being a parent is challenging; however, I could never in my wildest dreams give up on any of my children. Yes, I get upset and frustrated on occasion but I never give up on them. For me, being a parent is a lifelong journey that will end when I take my last breath. Then and only then can I rest in the knowledge that I fulfilled my purpose.
When I translated these lessons from my role as a parent to my role as a leader at work, I began to achieve results that were greater than anything that I could have dreamed. I had the respect of my peers, the loyalty of subordinates, and achieved results that I sometimes thought were impossible. Along the way, I became a better leader but much more importantly, I became a better person. To me, that is the true meaning of success.