How being a grandfather has taught me valuable leadership lessons
As I head toward the completion of my 62nd trip around the sun I am taking time to reflect more about how I got to where I am and what I have learned in the journey. 62 years is a long time and then again it is not. When compared to ancient history, I am just a pause on the time line of history. But in my pause, especially the last 19 months, my journey has spoken volumes to me about what I have learned and how I have become and can help other become better leaders. One of the single most important things that has occurred is my becoming a grandfather. Let me say more about my family so that you will understand.
My wife and I married on 9/11/1982, way before that day became a solemn day on the calendar. We were blessed to have sons born in 1988 and in 1990. Both sons have become productive citizens and both married in 2015. The event I will speak about most occurred on 10/14/19 when Charles Theodore Ryan (aka Teddy) was born. There is always a first and he is the first grandchild and grandson. His brother, William Daniel Ryan was born on 4/30/21 and they will have a cousin, a young lady, who will join us within the next four weeks. Rather than getting bogged down in all of the details that I care about much more than you will, let me share what is on my heart about what I have learned and am still learning after this chapter of my life began to unfold. I could say more than what I will write today (and at some time I will expound more), but for now I'll just hit the high points.
Here are the most significant things I have learned about Leadership in the grandchild era:
- Leaders need to sacrifice-Seeing my grandchildren arrive has allowed me to see first-hand how my sons and their wives have adapted and learned about how to care for others. There is no real "how to" manual when it comes to being a parent and seeing my sons take to nurturing and caring for those who are helpless like their children are helps me realize that we must have done a few things right as parents. Being a parent is an exercise in sacrifice, but the rewards are exponential when compared to the investment. All leaders must sacrifice at some point and children/grandchildren allow you to experience sacrifice first-hand.
- Leaders need to be empathetic-Most women who have had children will say that their husbands/partners never will understand what it is like to go through childbirth. As a man I can understand that, but it does not keep me from being empathetic to what women go through during the period of time during pregnancy and in childbirth. Any father who doesn't have empathy will never gain an understanding of what it takes to deliver a child into this world. Empathetic fathers need to do everything they can to be present and pitch in in order to help out. The world of fathers who are not involved is hopefully a distant memory for most families and the empathetic father learns about listening and aiding/supporting others, especially their wife/partner when times are good and bad.
- Leaders need to work well in a team environment-Every family is different, but each family resembles a team in some fashion. Families with both parents present allow opportunities for the two to exhibit and employ their complementary skills to aid and support one another. In some cases the parents will have similar skills, but there are some family skills that men will never supplant (breastfeeding) and there are some roles that women may have more of a challenge with then men. Needless to say, it takes teamwork in the family unit to get through childbirth and raising children. I could say so much more here, but I'll stop for now.
- Leaders need to recognize and celebrate-Parents who recognize and encourage their children will find that their children will probably grow up to be more confident and happy. Parents who do not encourage and support their children will find that their children will probably disengage and also become overly focused on finding ways to please others. These same behaviors show up in the workplace when leaders do, or do not, recognize and support their team.
- Leaders need to understand how to prepare the way for their successors-This statement is so much of what I see and feel from the grandparent role. So much of my journey thus far was in preparing myself and our sons so that when they became parents they would have a clear understanding of what to do. Parents model behavior for their children and grandparents get to see what their children learned and have adopted when they have their own children. Being a grandparent would be much less rewarding if I didn't have a solid relationship with my sons. I have never been the perfect father, but it is hard to be a bad grandfather. This role is the one I have wished for my entire life and I feel so blessed to have this opportunity now. I often think back to the fact that neither of our sons met my parents. My sons were fortunate to have the best grandparents ever in my wife's parents. The best training to be a grandparent and also a leader is to understand who you serve and that your role is not forever.
Parenting is a tough role and being a leader is also difficult. Being a grandparent is fun and also challenging. The fun part is to experience the love of your grandchildren. The challenging part is keeping my thoughts to myself when our sons and their spouses go about child raising in a way that might differ from my ideas. Leadership is the same way. Not all leaders lead the same way and knowing those you lead and finding ways to support and encourage them is the key.
Being a grandparent is the best role I have ever had. Being a leader can have many of the same benefits and rewards.