Leadership And Family
This past week, a friend who is a retired federal judge and who knows I love leadership, encouraged me to think and write about leadership and family. My mind immediately drifted back several decades to a conversation I had with a friend while we sat on a bench outside Georgetown Law Center, where I worked for 32 years.
My friend knew I facilitated the workshop, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” for Georgetown University employees. He said to me, “Larry, can you please just tell me the Seven Habits and I will write them down? Then I will practice them.”
I replied, “It doesn’t work that way. You can’t just write them down and expect to make them part of your life. You have to develop new habits over time. It takes commitment and repeated practice.”
He said, “Well, teach me something now.” I said “OK, Habit 3 is “Put First Things First.” What is the most important thing in your life right now.?”
He smiled and said, “That’s easy. My family. My wife and kids are always #1. I would do anything for them.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “I thought you told me that you get into your law office each morning by 7:00 am and don’t get home in the evening until 8:00 pm.”
“That’s right,” he replied. “You know I am a senior partner in a national firm with Fortune 500 clients and tons of responsibility. I want to provide a terrific lifestyle for my family and this is what it takes.”
“When do you spend time with your family?” I inquired.
“Well, I see my kids at night after they have dinner and spend quality time with them on the weekends, even though sometimes I have to go in to the office on Saturdays.”
“Wait a second,” I said. “I thought you said your family is the most important thing in the world to you.”
“Absolutely!” he replied.
“OK – look at the week and how you are spending your time,” I countered. “What you are saying is not reflected in how you are using your time. I think you ought to take a good look in the mirror.”
He smiled and said, “You don’t understand.”
Another friend of mine, an esteemed trial lawyer, told me a story this week about his family rule when his kids were young – Dinner at 6:15 pm each night, all family members present unless someone was out of town. One day a lawyer from a big firm wanted to schedule a meeting for 6:00 pm. My friend told this lawyer his family’s rule; My friend was 35 years old with two children.
The other lawyer said, “At our firm no good lawyer worth their salt leaves the firm before 7:00 pm.” That story reminded me of the conversation with my friend sitting outside the law school.
Over the years, when I have discussed leadership and leadership attitudes and behaviors with people, their minds immediately jump to the work space – to their jobs, to their organizations, to their managers and team members.
They often do not consider leadership in the context of their own lives and the lives of their families. However, leadership is not a Monday-Friday thing. True leadership is happening all the time – at home and at work.
As I wrote in an earlier newsletter, we cannot learn to lead other people until we first learn how to lead ourselves. We must lead ourselves in terms of priorities, time management, communications, emotional intelligence, how we think and act, and how we engage in self-care.
We are role models not just in the office. We are role models within our own families. Our children and our children’s friends are always watching. Children are sponges. Just like our teammates at work, our children and our grandchildren are always watching – they watch what we do and don’t do, what we say and don’t say.
Please never underestimate the leadership role you can play in your own family. Regardless of the age of your children or grandchildren, you can play a leadership role throughout their lives. You can serve as a positive role model. You can teach important leadership concepts, with anecdotes, with stories, with lessons learned throughout your life and career.
I will tell you a secret I have only shared with my wife Liz. Through decades of leadership learning, teaching, speaking and writing, I am most proud of one specific accomplishment.
That is passing on my leadership lessons to my two sons, Jared and Ben, and watching them apply those lessons in their own lives, in their personal relationships and at work.
So, please, do not think about leadership in only a work context. Think about yourself. Think about your family. Think about how you can master what has traditionally been called work-life balance.
As someone once said, “When we are lying on our death beds, it will not be our work colleagues standing around the room saying goodbye. It will be our family members.”
Devote your skills and knowledge to your family. Do it now.