Most people will tell you that an effective business leader has certain attributes that help him or her get to where they are. They are focused, have strong communication skills, have an insatiable curiosity, and learn to adapt in any environment. These are traits that are building blocks for other skills and talents but it is indisputable they are prerequisite to becoming an executive, entrepreneur, or a leader. Little did I know that my son, who I will refer to as Mr. CEO, would be a role model of all these traits.
Lesson #1: Stay Focused
While Mr. CEO has not yet mastered the art of multi-tasking, he is extremely focused when he wants to be focused. From when he was 3 months old, my wife discovered that our son loved to watch the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” Till this day, Mr. CEO is never distracted by whatever else is going on when his favorite program is on. We have not figured out why his focus and attentiveness becomes unwavering for this particular show but as kids like consistency we continue to make this a part of his daily routine. His acute focus has reminded me that in this day and age of multitasking, it is far wiser to do just one thing at a time and do it well. As a result, lately I have decided to not bring my laptop or smart phone to business meetings so that I can give my unabiding attention and respect to the agenda and discussion. I have my son to thank for reminding me that being focused on one thing at a time is indeed a good thing.
Lesson #2: Be Vocal and Be Heard
I firmly believe that seeking to understand others first before being understood is the currency for effective communication. But does this necessarily apply to newborns? It took me a while to wake up to this notion but newborns are never dishonest about how they feel. Fortunately our son has not had infantile colic so we can say with certainty that he only communicates (i.e., cries) when he needs something. As a new parent, it took a while for me to acknowledge this but I admire Mr. CEO’s undying willingness to always speak up when he needs something. Even the small things that may be unapparent — such as a nagging tag on the back of his shirt — he always speaks up about whatever he needs, through and through. This has been a reminder that in business we all need to be communicative even if it means challenging the status-quo in an organization. This is especially paramount when it comes to our own career development and growth. I will admit that early in my career I was reluctant to “speak up” out of fear of hearing the words “No” or “Now is not the time.” But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Never allow a person to tell you no who does not have the power to say yes.” A manager who prioritizes career development will listen attentively to our needs and take the steps necessarily to address them, big or small.
Lesson #3: Be Curious
A baby’s insatiable curiosity is extremely eye-opening and miraculous to watch. Everything and anything that comes into our son’s eyes is obviously a first-time experience. Hence, we do our best to explain what he’s looking at to feed his curiosity. Like many babies, Mr. CEO’s curiosity extends to electronic devices. No matter if it’s a smart phone or remote control, he can study it (i.e, play with it) for significant periods of time until he’s ready for something new. At 6 months old, my wife serendipitously discovered his curiosity for toothbrushes. It was something he picked up on his own and till this day it is perhaps Mr. CEO’s favorite pastime. Indeed, curiosity is human nature for a baby but I would have never guessed that a toothbrush would be more entertaining than Elmo. This has also been a reminder that it’s important to be curious and to nurture that curiosity with experiences. Successful business leaders have an insatiable appetite for trying different things: from learning new skills to experimenting with new methods, it’s incumbent to stay curious and embrace change. Sir Richard Branson comes to mind as a great example of someone whose curiosity has been the foundation to his empire. Furthermore, sustained curiosity and inquisitiveness can be the keys to finding purpose and meaning in one’s life. It was Mark Twain who once said the “Two most important days in our life are the day when we are born and the day we found out why.” Feeding our curiosity and being willing to embrace change may be the best path to discovering that second day.
Lesson #4: Adapt to Your Environment & Reinvent
Over the past 3 months, my family did a lot of travel across the Pacific and in the continental United States. As new parents, naturally we were concerned about how our son would handle air travel, interactions with family, and adjusting to different environments. As anticipated, there were trying moments due to varying time zones as well as climate changes but we were amazed at Mr. CEO’s resilience. He was able to ultimately and willingly adjust to his environment throughout. It got me thinking that if my son can adapt to sudden and uninitiated changes in the things around him, how great our potential would be if we all embraced trends or changes in business. Great companies have failed because of their unwillingness to adapt to new trends and changes in the marketplace. Blockbuster, Kodak, and Circuit City are just a few organizations who fell prey to their own complacency. But just like corporations, we too as people have to be willing and able to adapt to our business environment and reinvent ourselves in the process. Netflix is a great example of a company who has consistently reinvented themselves based on the environment — from pioneering the DVD mail order service, to online streaming leadership, to now being an entertainment studio powerhouse. Adapting to environmental shifts and ultimately reinventing ourselves is not easy to do but when we do, the rewards are plentiful. For someone who tends to be private about his family and who has shied away from personal publications, I have decided to embrace the social media environment as the new normal and a key piece to building my own brand. Again, I have my son to thank for this shift in behavior.
It goes without saying but fatherhood has been extremely rewarding and uplifting on many levels. As my Mother would say, babies are smaller versions of ourselves; the only difference is that they have their own way of communicating and expressing themselves. Each and every day, Mr. CEO reminds me how I once was at his age and more importantly how I need to be professionally. From his big splashes in the bathtub to his impending first steps, his growth and development has metaphorically given me teachable moments on how to manage my own career and for that I am forever grateful.
Michael Campbell is the Founder and CEO of FullEffect International, Inc. and Managing Director of FullEffecting Marketing, a boutique consulting firm that provides small and medium size businesses advising services focused on product marketing, and global business development.