A typical Friday afternoon in the 1990s involved me driving to Colchester station with a number of young soldiers (male and female) so they could catch their train to their family homes – it saved them ordering, waiting and paying for a taxi. I recall the journey usually included some sage advice from me to them about a number of areas of their lives and careers. One Friday as they collected their baggage from the boot of my car one of them turned round and said “thanks Dad” with a straight face! As I was a Warrant Officer (WO2) in the British Army at the time, I should have been annoyed but I held it together until I was out of and laughed all the way home!
It was not the first time someone had said this to me in the Army. I was coming towards the end of my career and I was too old to change my leadership style and why should I? It had always worked for me no matter what kind of unit or posting or where I was. After all, isn’t it always about performance and results that you are judged on? My teams were always successful (especially the sporting ones) and I always got results! I still have the trophies to prove it. And if your team members are happy, why change your style of leadership?
I have now been a Dad for just over 30 years; I have become practised in all the demands and responsibilities of the ‘post’. Being a Dad was something I always wanted to be and I had prepared fully for the role long before I became one in exactly the same way I had when I decided I would aspire to be a leader.
This post is about on being a Dad to Bettina and how it has helped me with my leadership skills and hopefully to become a better leader (and a better person). For those who know me really well, especially my wife, Joyce, how I am at home with both my daughters is not really any different from how I operated in the Army and in my (second) Social Care career over the last 21 years. Good news – the skills and attributes of being a parent are transferable!
Bettina is a woman who has always coped with learning disabilities and autism which come with additional challenges for her but also present opportunities for me to constantly raise my game, this is how…
Being Bettina’s Dad to Being a Leader
- Bettina does not make allowances for my age (I am 60). She does not understand that I might not be able to give her a piggy back anymore on the beach when she sees a dog coming towards her (she will continue to try though). She does not understand the concept of getting older. I have to be just as quick on my feet now as when she was a young girl. So keeping fit and alert is a must (for the rest of my life)
- Lots of energy and enthusiasm. Bettina’s Dad loves life. I think this is contagious and Bettina has definitely got the bug too.
- I love this quote from the sadly departed Carrie Fisher “There is no point at which you can say, “Well I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.” I can never rest on my laurels. I must be better than I was yesterday.
- To be effective and to be successful you need to be passionate about what you do. If you are not, it will be spotted!
- Do what you say you are going to do! Bettina will become distressed if I deviate from the agreed plan without prior warning. If you promise her something then you must deliver.
- I thought with a 24 year career in the Army, discipline would be built into my DNA. However there is always room for improvement. You need to be organised and on your toes 24/7 – yes, even when you think you are sleeping (or dozing on the settee which allegedly I do) – tight discipline gets stuff done and sets you free to do more.
- Respect and Trust does not come with a title. It is something to be earned every day. As soon as Bettina wakes in the morning then that is when I start again, earning her respect and trust. Just because I had it yesterday does not automatically mean I will have it today
- Bettina (and her big sister) come first for both her parents in every part of our lives. It is about recognising that those who depend and or rely on you come before you.
- We do nice things for each other – I give up my seat and I always open the door for her, it is about standards. Often if my lunch box is left out in the kitchen she will fill it with things she thinks I will like. It is about standards
- Bettina would become anxious, confused and desperate if I had mood swings or I was contrary. There are no days off from being all singing and dancing. It’s about being consistent
- Inspire – but I don’t have to be the one that is always inspiring! Bettina inspires me every day with her courage and doing something that I was not expecting. This could be some new speech or an accomplishment that didn’t come easy for her
- I understand that being Bettina’s Dad is an honour and privilege. I am very proud to walk with her
- It’s about truly caring for another person (people) 24/7. We often tell each other in Dosh (dosh.org) that we are a family (as opposed to being like a family) because we care about each other.
These are just 13 of the expectations (and requirements) that Bettina has for me as her Dad – are they any different from the expectations of a leader?
So deciding what kind of parent you aim to be is not much different (in my experience) to deciding what kind of leader you want to be. Once you have your plan stick with it.
PS my oldest daughter is truly awesome please check out https://leadershipintheraw.org/2015/12/09/being-bettinas-dad-a-role-model-for-bettina/ to find out why. As well as Bettina’s expectations two things I must specifically do for Jennifer and which stand me in good stead within my leadership role too!
- Think through what I am going to say to her before I say it! I have been doing this since she was 12. She is incredibly sharp and witty and will catch me out if I fluff my lines. If I get something wrong she is all over me like a rash (and Joyce joins in too)
- Truly listen to her, most people don’t listen.