I accepted my first managerial position at the tender age of 24, a mere babe, and a full two years before I became a father. Placed in charge of a diverse accounting department of eight employees, it was a daunting period, to state it mildly. Gaining the respect of people much older and with much longer tenure was a challenge that I accepted with open arms, however.
I have been blessed with an inherent ability to see strikingly different parts of an equation and put them together in some sort of coherent fashion. But that trait in no way prepared me for the personalities, moods and “me-first” nature of some of the veteran staff. Not one to be easily rattled, I decided to go with four basic management “ground rules”, in keeping with my upbringing:
1: Lead by example. My work ethic, time spent and treatment of others would shine above all. If I failed, I had myself to blame.
2: Be a good listener. Everyone there knew more than I about the particular industry. It would be wise to ask good questions and make note of the responses.
3: Be firm, when necessary. Regardless of age, experience or the skills of the staff, I would make it clear that I was the final word, even though the process would include discussion and valued opinions.
4: Reward or discipline, according to performance and behavior.. and be consistent.
It took months before I felt that I had molded a great staff, some by heart-to-heart talks, some by re-training and some by replacement. The personality skills that I was able to hone along the way, however, were immeasurable and highly transferable to being a parent. It is a human being’s basic nature to look out for #1, first, and be part of a team, second. We are wired this way. This notion gave me a solid head start and plan going into parenthood, with the goal of molding my own children into the best human beings that they could be.
Rather than be a “dictator”, I would take great pains along the way to explain the rewards for positive behavior and the consequences for bad. And follow up. And follow up. Though it was difficult to see at the very early stages, I knew that this would be the best approach for the future, when my kids would someday be out on their own.
I learned from my dealings with my new staff, particularly, those many years my senior, that this would be the best approach. That experience was a free glimpse into the future, if you like. There was no way, for example, that I was going to allow my children to become the “Stomp and you’ll get your way” type, or of the “Everyone feel sorry for me, a bad break came my way” variety. Instead, I would attempt to mold the best characteristics of the staff into my own household. Team players, aiming for the common good, stating differences respectfully would be the way to go. But I (and my wife) would be in charge, lest there be any doubt.
By carefully applying the golden rules that I set above for management, coupled with my newfound (and sometimes surprising) knowledge of daily interaction with underlings (many simply seeking their own satisfaction), I crafted a plan of action. This plan, together with a wonderful partner/world-class mother, turned out to be the ticket. My children are grown, happy, successful, well-adjusted and self-sufficient. As we interact now, as “friends”, it is enjoyable AND quite funny to reminisce about their triumphs, setbacks and groundings, on their journey to adulthood.
The “simple” child-rearing advice that my parents passed down to me became sage words, indeed, and valued beyond measure:
Start on day one.
Lead by example.
Reward or discipline, fairly.
Love, laugh and cry together.
Don’t fear for showing your weaknesses, but never let that be an opportunity for your kids to act out.
The most important life lesson that I will ever learn is that your children are a direct reflection of you (and your partner) and the time and effort spent on their well-being… beginning on day 1.