Happy Fathers Day! My best to all the Dads out there, men who act as father figures, and to the amazing Mom’s who play both roles. Enjoy the journey.
ANNOUNCEMENT FLASH: Excited to announce my latest leadership project coming this late summer, early fall: Dads, Leaders, and Father Figures: Creating Influence & Legacy for a Lifetime.
A book for Dads, Leaders, and Father Figures who are looking to make a difference in the lives of those they serve as well as thrive in the professional and personal balance of time, decisions, focus, and more. Strategies, stories, and experiences from men who are striving to do their best through the ups and downs of life looking to create that influence and legacy for a lifetime.
This will be a collaborative book written with three other school leaders whom I admire: Dr. Larry Dake (Binghamton, NY), Jeff Evener (Syracuse/Finger Lake area), and Kevin Spainhour (Winston Salem, NC). In this work, we share authentic experiences, stories, and more on our journey of fatherhood and leadership. We have invited a few guest writers to join us also. We are looking to help inspire men on their journey, find that balance of professional and personal time, and thrive while impacting others along the way, specifically our families. We hope to create a leadership retreat where fathers and leaders can come and share, grow, and learn from each other while molding their own form, and tweaking their own styles.
I was so excited. I finally had enough money to buy a car. I was injured in an accident when I was younger and my family received some settlement money from that incident. I had about $8000 on the ready to buy my first car.
I was attending Guilford College at the time in Greensboro, N.C. I knew I could purchase a car cheaper in North Carolina than in New York, so I decided to visit with my close friend Kevin Spainhour in King, N.C., a suburb outside of Winston Salem, N.C. I was close with Kevin and his family, and his Dad, Ken, offered to go with us to purchase the car.
There it was. At a local car dealership near Kevin’s home was a mint Chevy Cavalier Z24 stick-shift. It was love at first sight and sticker priced at $7600. I had enough money and wanted it bad. Kevin sensed this in me and gently held my arm back and said, “Don’t say anything. Just let Ken do the talking.” The salesman approached and Ken the man. They spoke for several minutes about nothing, then Ken introduced Kevin and I. He informed the gentleman that I was interested in the car. We took it for a test drive and I loved it even more after driving it. I would have given him all $8000 right there. In my mind, I was taking the car home that night!
We returned to the dealership and I was ready to get rolling on the process of buying the car. Ken thanked the salesperson and told him we were going to think about it and maybe come back the next morning. WHAAAAATTTTTT? I was ready to buy and I wanted the car? What were we doing? I heeded Kevin’s advice and kept my mouth shut despite screaming on the inside.
Ken is a quiet man and doesn’t say much, nor did he after this experience. We went back the next morning around 10 a.m. and Ken offered him $6000. After a quick ‘check-in’ inside, the two men shook hands and I had my first car for $1600 off the sticker price!
DLFF Learning Point: Patience, patience, patience. I was not a patient person growing up, yet I have learned this virtue over time. This experience certainly helped me over the years and exemplified patience. I am so grateful to Kevin and his family for so many experiences, including this one. If I were there on my own or with someone else, maybe the transaction goes differently. Who knows? In addition to patience, I learned:
Never be too eager for a material object.
It’s all about relationships. Ken knew the salesperson and he knew Ken. They talked 80% about other topics before getting to the business of the car. There was trust, familiarity, and a connection before anything about a car.
Always good to sleep on big decisions. My emotions were in a ramped-up state after the test drive. I was in a totally different space the next morning.
Map it, Rehearse it, Anticipate it. – Kevin Spainhour
Let’s get out of the house.
We climbed into a 2004 Honda Pilot with only a short to-do list of errands that my son was convinced required his assistance. My memory doesn’t recall where we drove or what items were on the list. The errand run was just the excuse to get us alone and out of the house. Often removing your child from the comfort of their environment heightens awareness by eliminating familiar distractions. The goal today was to create an opportunity for uninterrupted, direct communication that hopefully resonated with a preadolescent son.
It was time to talk about sex as Salt-n-Pepa’s top-rated 1991 release suggested. The conversation had been ‘backburner-ed’ for long enough. With two daughters and two sons, the breakdown of responsibilities on this conversation topic was equal between my wife and me. She handled our older daughters “talk” in previous years and was diligent in holding her husband accountable to the boys. As we finished our last errand, my son climbed into the passenger seat with zero knowledge he was on the verge of being smack in the middle of a birds and the bees conversation with his dad. We headed home and pulled off in a vacant lot near our house.
While the topic can be daunting for any father, having a plan, being prepared and anticipating the response will bring you confidence and help create the outcome you desire. Whether it is sitting in your son’s future hand-me-down Honda Pilot or sitting with an employee, a leader’s approach to difficult conversations creates opportunity for any organization or family to excel or collapse. Tough conversations are embedded in a leader’s job description. If you choose to avoid the uncomfortable conversations with those under your charge, your leadership and influence will be fleeting.
The same is true for being a father. Having meaningful conversations with your children is not always comfortable for you or them. However, being a father and being a leader is no easy task. Mapping out the conversations, rehearsing the dialogue and anticipating the responses will build capacity as you navigate the many challenges of effective communication.
DLFF Learning Point:
Map it out – like plugging directions into a GPS, have a destination for where the conversation needs to end. It doesn’t mean you will always go the most direct route, but knowing your destination (outcome) is essential. Ask yourself, “When the conversation is over, I want _______ to be clearly communicated.”
Talk to yourself – rehearse the conversation alone, fine-tuning how you prioritize the topics of discussion. The more you practice aloud and hear yourself saying the talking points the more recollection you will experience during the actual conversation. Turn off the noise while driving alone and talk to yourself.
Anticipate the response – as you prepare for conversations, consider questions that may be asked. Depending on the context of the conversation, consider a potential emotional response. The more you have visualized how the conversation will transpire, the more confident you will be to pivot and direct the discussion while maintaining your own composure.
November 9, 2009 – Lourdes Hospital, Binghamton NY
I will never forget November 9, 2009 – the night before our first child was born. Sitting on my couch watching Syracuse play a non-conference basketball game, my wife and I were scheduled to arrive at the hospital at 6am the next day to prepare for a C-section. We were all packed, not really knowing what to expect but knowing we would be staying at the hospital for three nights. Three nights! It felt like a nice time to get some work done. “I’ll bring my laptop!” I exclaimed to my wife.
24 hours later, with a newborn, a wife who just underwent major surgery, and surrounded by all sorts of medical equipment, I slowly realized this wouldn’t be an opportunity to plug along on doctoral course material. Baby crying, nurses in and out, and a wife who suddenly couldn’t walk or do anything for herself (after all, she had just been literally cut open and sewn back together). It should have been obvious.
Looking back on it on my 29-year old self at that moment, I know I should have realized it wasn’t about me…but I didn’t quite understand it at that time. I was annoyed and frustrated that it wasn’t about me anymore. I think deep down I rationally knew that, and wanted that, but my emotions were slower to accept the new reality.
Two days later, we left the hospital, and I had a two-week “man-ternity” leave to be home and help all of us adjust to this major change. During those two weeks, it began to sink in – the mindset with which I had approached my work – and really my life – had suddenly shifted. No longer could I carve out time to finish my doctorate in the same way. No longer could I pop up my laptop on a sunday afternoon – football games in the background – and write papers, design lessons, plot my future leadership career. My god, it wasn’t just about me anymore.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Larry, you were already married, didn’t you realize that already? The fact is that even marriage, while shifting mindsets, doesn’t quite shift approaches to time and career in the same way as having children does. Adults can take care of themselves. They can eat meals alone if you are coaching varsity basketball games on a Friday evening in a town 60 minutes away. They often stay late at work themselves. Communication, expectations, yes, that all has to happen. But adults will be okay if you still want to pursue your doctorate, coach varsity basketball, be a great teacher, and plan on a leadership career.
Whenever I think back on that era, I think of my quote “I’ll Bring my Laptop!” It reminds me of how thinking has to shift when major life changes happen. The laptop represents the ultimate grind – pop it up, get your work done, get your doctorate, dominate the landscape. Great things can still happen after those shifts, but it takes a different mindset.
DLFF Learning Point: Recognize when mindset shifts are taking place, and anticipate them to the best extent possible. In the story above, I had all of my lessons planned, substitute teacher in line, and all would be well for the next two weeks. My professor had already told me not to work on any doctoral assignments for two weeks. So why didn’t I listen? Because it was still all about me.
Recognize the “I’ll Bring my Laptop” moments when they are happening. And if possible, leave the laptop and the mindset at home.
Talk with your spouse about these challenges. I really struggled to make this shift for many years, and wish I had been more open with my wife on this.
Mindset shifts are often good. We need to grow and evolve. As a 29-year old, I was still approaching life as I did at 19 – “I’m going to take this on and dominate it.” That doesn’t work as a professional when we all need others to help us on our journey. Mindsets HAVE to change. Embrace it.
Being a father is the toughest job that I have ever had and with young children, I know it will only get harder. As the saying goes, “bigger kids, bigger problems”. I also know this will become harder because everyone I know tells me, “just wait!”. I assume they mean that when kids are younger, they are a little easier. I also understand this to be true through my experience as a middle teacher, middle school principal, high school principal, and athletic director. Regardless, our children deserve the best version of us at every stage of their development. Becoming our best version is a daily struggle for most fathers and leaders.
Honestly, I came to the personal growth world at a later stage in my life. I had very little interest in looking inward at myself and reflecting on ways to become better. Without getting too far into the weeds on my journey, it was a chance combination of stumbling across and reading The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player by John C. Maxwell and downloading the John C. Maxwell Leadership Podcast. Neither was on purpose or with intention. Neither was done with the idea of improving myself. Let’s just say my life has completely changed. I am now a certified Maxwell Leadership Speaker, Trainer, and Coach and focus on my daily growth as a leader every day.
Until recently I was failing to make the connection between my leadership development and my abilities as a father. I was not transferring my newfound leadership knowledge and skills into my world as a father. There has been a huge disconnect. My work world was getting the best version of myself while my world that matters the most was not getting the same effort. The disconnect, fortunately, has been quite easy to solve. I had no personal growth plan for being a great dad. I have a very detailed growth plan for my leadership (clear focus on improving my attitude, my desire to become an effective public speaker, and my goal of coaching leaders).
I only started recently to combine my personal growth plan for leadership with my need to become a better father. Taken together, all three areas of my personal growth plan will make me a better father. Having a great attitude is essential as a dad. Becoming a better public speaker is about being an effective communicator. Being an effective communicator is essential as a dad. Coaching other leaders is about being in tune with my client. Seeking to uncover their hopes and dreams is vital to the relationship and their career. Helping my children uncover their hopes and dreams is essential as a dad.
DLFF Learning Point: If you want to grow your leadership and your skills as a father it is essential that you have a personal growth plan. Growth does not happen by accident. Hope is never a good strategy to make something happen. To become your best self as a dad try the following steps:
Determine 2-4 areas you want to grow as a father. Patience is a common theme that I hear from other fathers.
Write those areas down on a piece of paper.
Determine tangible action steps that will help you grow in the areas you have selected.
Make your growth plan public (your spouse makes a great person for this).
Work on each of your growth areas every day.
Reflect on your growth each week.
Do not give up on your growth. If you have a setback, reflect on it, and resolve to be better tomorrow. Our growth today will set up our success tomorrow.
#LeadershipSparks: Fathers Day Special Announcement
Quote: “A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe