What do our fathers teach us about leadership?

In the UK it’s Fathers’ day today. For many of us, our fathers are the first model of leadership that we have – what do we learn from them subconsciously? (630 words) 

Today is Fathers’ day.  My Dad’s birthday is in the same week and some years ago we decided that we wouldn’t officially celebrate Fathers’ day. He doesn’t expect a separate card or presents from me but it’s always a time to reflect and I usually give him a ring.

It occurred to me this morning that, for me and many other people, my Dad is possibly the first real model of leadership that I ever experienced, even if it was subconscious.

My Dad was and an excellent Dad to a young child. From him I learnt dependability and stability. I remember him once being made redundant and taking a job that he was massively over qualified for in order to ensure that his family were provided for, I never once heard him complain about it. He knew his responsibilities as a husband and father and did what had to be done. He was and is a man of his word if he said he would be somewhere or do something then he always followed through.  He was a fair, calm and considered presence throughout my childhood. Even as an adult I ask him for measured and objective advice about particular things as I value his opinion despite our different perspectives on life.

I have always been a Daddy’s girl but as an older teenager and young adult in my 20s our relationship shifted. My Dad is a product of his generation and upbringing. He is quiet and stoic like his father before him and like many men aged 55+ of Caribbean heritage. Actions are his thing. Feelings, or the expression of them, not so much. The mood swings and exploding hormones of a teenage girl and my earlier difficulties as a young adult were something beyond his sphere of reference and increasingly I learnt that factual things were best to talk about with him but feelings not so much.

I wonder how many other of us have subconsciously taken on the leadership model of our parents?  For many years I considered feelings to be a private thing and the expression of them to be a weakness. Not from others so much- I didn’t really mind that- but from myself. My general approach in life and at work was just to get on with things and if things weren’t going so well to keep on getting on with things and not admit to vulnerability. This worked for a time and it’s not always appropriate to express or share everything in a professional context but actually there is a danger with this approach. Eventually, with some very big life events, I realised that I could’t always keep things to my self.

Now, I have learnt that a healthier model for me is to express feelings (to appropriate people) as well as more factual things. In leadership and life I have found that people appreciate my intellect and analysing of the facts but actually it’s my passion about things that really draws them and and persuades them. In recent years, quite surprisingly to me, my honesty and vulnerability about mistakes and professional and personal conflicts that I have experienced has also been an asset- leading to new and deeper relationships and interesting professional opportunities.

But what about my Dad? Well, this week I had quite possibly the most surprising conversation with him of recent years. What started off as a quick birthday call ended up as a wide ranging discussion about trust, intimacy and our own quirks and mistakes in relationships with our spouses. This was all interpersed with the general laughter and mickey-taking that is a constant feature of our relationship.   It seems that sometimes opening ourselves up allows others to do the same.




How managers can build relationships

What can line managers do to build trust and make people feel valued? Take a genuine interest in them. (244 words)
Do you line manage people?
How many of the following do you know about them?
  • Do they have kids?
  • Do they have a pet?
  • Do they have a partner?
  • What are the names of the above?
  • What are their professional hopes for the future?
  • What are their personal hopes for the future?
  • What keeps them awake at night?
  • What are they passionate about?
  • Have they done anything recently at work that was really good and had an impact?
  • Have they done anything recently at work that they were disappointed about?
Once you’ve found out the above do you ever ask them about it again?
Do you care?
Do they know any of the above about you?
Do you treat this information sensitively and confidentially?
How do the answers to the above impact their work?
How can you use your knowledge of the above questions, or others like them, to show then that you value them?
I can be pretty driven but I’ve learnt that it’s relationships that really matter in life – personally and professionally. People want to be seen. People want to be valued.  People want to feel special. People want to feel acknowledged. If it’s genuine, it’s so much better than a great big stick.
This is the stuff that happens when nobody else is watching. This is the stuff that builds relationships.  This is the stuff that builds trust.