Be a Great Business Leader by Starting With Your Family

My work and family life have always been intertwined.

My two kids, Blake and Annie, were familiar presences at the offices of companies I ran. And at home, our family always shared the problems we were working on. These could be work- or school-related, or more pertinent to daily life. We’d share them at the dinner table, in the car and at bedtime.

This was no random accident. It was the result of a conscious decision my wife and I made: to raise our children to have a founder’s mindset.

A founder’s mindset beyond business

A “founder” doesn’t necessarily need to start a company or disrupt entire industries. I believe anyone can be a founder – as long as he or she can identify problems, determine solutions, and then put those solutions into practice. When people operate with a founder’s mindset, they always view the world through this lens. 

When we started our parenting journey, it didn’t take long for me to realize that many of the challenges I took on at work – truly motivating employees, fostering collaborative thinking and prioritizing problems to solve – were the same challenges I dealt with as a father.

If you’re a parent, raising children can teach you a lot about small business leadership. Running a business means taking a lot of weight on your shoulders: It’s tough to delegate, make difficult decisions and be the one to provide accountability. This is a leader’s role.

To my delight, raising my children with a founder’s mindset helped me instill the same values in employees and colleagues, and my businesses grew as a result.

When business meets family

In nearly 62 percent of married-couple families, both parents work – meaning work is an inescapable part of family life. Despite this, we often feel discouraged to talk about family at the office. According to Bright Horizons, working parents still fear negative repercussions at work. Thirty-seven percent of parents worry they’ll never be promoted again because of family responsibilities, and 22 percent worry that family commitments will cost them important projects.

This ties into the misconception that children interfere with our chances of success at work, especially if we’re vying for a leadership position.

The reality is the complete opposite, of course. Being a parent can actually help us become better leaders and teammates within our small businesses. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that working mothers actually outperformed their childless counterparts at work.

This makes logical sense. High-performing, long-lasting small businesses tend to function as a family would. And because both families and employees benefit from effective communication skills, why wouldn’t we want to take lessons from home and apply them in the workplace?

Applying the founder’s mindset at work

Teaching children how to think like founders goes a long way in supporting their development. My wife and I have seen the founder’s mindset impact our children’s paths: Blake is a successful entrepreneur in the medical industry, and Annie is expanding the nonprofit she founded in college nationwide.

As a small business leader, you can instill the founder’s mindset in your team. This doesn’t mean you should be “parenting” at work, but it does mean that you can apply the lessons you learn as a parent to a small business environment – and your employees will thank you.

Here are three business leadership tips I learned from raising children to be founders:

1. Identify and solve the right problems.

Perhaps the most important part of a founder’s mindset is the ability to define the right problem to solve (or the PTS, as I call it). Whether it’s at work or at home, people might not take the time to carefully craft a problem statement.

If your children receive bad grades in math class, the surface-level problem could be that they’re not doing their homework, and the PTS could be that they lack the confidence or willingness to ask questions about the class material. To name another example, addressing a curfew challenge with kids might become an argument about time rather than a discussion around driving, getting sufficient sleep or the details of an outing.

You’ll find a lot of surface-level problems at work, too. As a small business leader, it’s your job to teach your team how to find and solve the right problems instead.

Let’s say you’re having trouble filling orders on time. In this case, it might not do much good to tell your teammates to move faster. Instead, encourage them to search and find the PTS. What’s actually causing orders to be filled slowly? The solution might be as simple as improving communication practices or conducting a simple time-motion study.

To identify your PTS, be sure to consider your “why.” This is crucial not only for finding your PTS, but also for uncovering a solution. Why is it necessary to solve the problem you’re mulling over? What will the outcome be if the problem isn’t solved? What about if it is solved? Keep asking yourself related questions until you reach a level of abstraction. This will help you examine the PTS at its core.

The important thing is that your teammates work to effectively identify these types of problems on their own. In this way, they’re more prepared for the next PTS.

2. Have tough conversations.

As parents, we might not always rush to talk with our kids about difficult problems at work or in our relationships. Our first instinct is to not worry our children, right? But every time you skip these conversations, you deprive children of an opportunity to empathize with you and develop the true PTS – both of which are key parts of the founder’s mindset.

Tough conversations are also growth opportunities for professionals: Udemy for Business reports that conflict management is one of the top soft skills employees can have, and CPP Global found U.S. workers spend around three hours mitigating conflicts per week.

To foster this skill in your business, you should be having tough conversations with your team on a regular basis. Talking through issues such as tight budgets, slow sales months, or inefficiencies in production processes will encourage employees to take initiative and find solutions. For leaders interested in honing their conversational skills in this arena, the book  is a valuable read.

3. Demonstrate authenticity whenever you can.

Do you actively demonstrate your values and live authentically in front of your children? Kids can identify phony behavior just like adults can. This is especially true once they start developing a founder’s mindset, which encourages them to be inquisitive and authentic within relationships. If you expect that behavior from your children, they’ll demand authenticity from you, too.

This also rings true at the office. People want leaders they can trust, and building that trust starts with authenticity. (After all, it’s easy for companies to claim that they’re altruistic – even when their actions are purely self-serving.) Show your team members that you’re willing to be honest and vulnerable with them, and they’ll reciprocate. In the long run, this makes it easier to collaborate at work and tackle problems together.

If it weren’t for my children, I wouldn’t have had the same career opportunities. We spent many years teaching each other. Through raising kids and starting businesses, I’ve often felt that my life has been one continuous adventure – and I’ve enjoyed applying the same philosophy to both pursuits.

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