Years ago, as a newly married man, my focus was on building my career and making sure we had enough money to put food on the table, buy disposable nappies and put a roof over our heads – in other words to try and create the most basic of security for my family. It was also a time of learning to be a parent which involves making many mistakes and learning, like everyone else, by trial and error from them but also thoroughly enjoying the sometimes turbulent, often times exhilarating ride that is parenthood. My journey was fuelled by a vision of success which then was about achievement, recognition and success. There was not much time to just sit back and smell the roses...
I would love to tell you that it’s completely different the second time around. I now have a grown up family and a new growing up family with almost a generation of time in-between and while the wolf may no longer be at the door and there is less of a drive for the pretentious signs of success, the hard work of parenting remains the same despite the experience and guess what, it feels like there is even less time to smell the roses.
What is different however, is my bigger picture perspective on child raising. With my first two kids I was super competitive always comparing their behaviour and achievements with others. I don’t even know if I was aware of it at the time or if I felt there was anything wrong with that. Both my children were excellent swimmers and I spent a lot of my time at the pool’s edge encouraging them to go faster and further. At the national championship school gala one daughter did just that, winning all of her six events and giving me a feeling of immense pride till I overheard someone say, ‘you don’t get results like that unless you are Stuart White’s kid’. It felt like a sting at the time and I was indignant in my hurt – what did they mean by that? Were they saying that as parents we were too pushy? Maybe we were but if you ask my daughter now, she will tell you she never felt we were driving her too hard – she was swimming for herself and achieving because this is what her goal was. When she got tired of it, she stopped, and it did not make any difference what I or her mother said about it – it was over. If I had thought that I was driving her swimming effort and was therefore indirectly responsible for her fantastic results, clearly I was mistaken – she did it for herself and she stopped for herself.
I realise now that the role that we did play in our daughters’ sport was in creating the environment which allowed them to achieve. We encouraged their swimming, by taking them to practices and investing in private tutoring and standing on the sidelines being the best cheerleaders imaginable (often to the embarrassment of our daughters). We kept swimming alive in our house as the sport was integral to our family and our life at that time. Perhaps this was my finest management moment.
I often think about my daughters swimming when I contemplate what good management looks like. If you employ people with the right talent and desire and create the environment for them to flourish, then it all can happen. By this I mean providing support and encouragement so they can learn, grow and achieve. The combination of ability and environment is the winning formula.
There were loads of children who were swimming because their parents were forcing them to do the sport but you could see in their eyes that they weren’t loving it and were doing it for the wrong reasons, much like employees who come to work for nothing more than a salary at the end of the month. Their parents pushed and they did ok, but they wouldn’t excel because their hearts weren’t in it, just like those who micro manage employees and police them to produce what will usually be merely minimal performance. On the other hand, you had the kids who had great talent but the support just wasn’t there – sometimes this was lack of finances for private coaching or for whatever reason not being able to be at the poolside at every training session. Of course, the analogy here is the multitudes of capable employees who are managed by unskilled and unaware managers who don’t have the wherewithal to provide the support in term of encouragement, mentoring and coaching in order to allow those employees to flourish and bloom.
There were other things that we taught our daughters through swimming and what we as managers should teach as well. We taught kindness – to teammates and opponents. We also taught them about resilience and self-discipline. As they say, the clock is the ultimate judge of a great swim or a mediocre performance and the only way to achieve the optimum times was to train even on days when they didn’t feel like it or when their friends were doing something else. I used to contemplate the sheer boredom of the sport, spending hours on end looking at the bottom of a swimming pool with only your own thoughts for company, repetitive, boring work but something that must be done. On many days it was easier not to go to practise, but we did because of believing in the overall and bigger goal. And so, it is with work. It’s not always fun and exhilarating. Sometimes you just must do the menial tasks, the difficult, un-enjoyable, repetitive chores to get the results you want. That’s inherent in life whether it is putting in the required number of lengths in the pool or reconciling your accounts at the end of the week or for the annual budget.
And so, just as it is with parenting where the nappies must be changed, discipline enforced but all the time support and encouragement must be offered, those same values and structures need to be in place to nurture talent in the workplace. It’s a timeless lesson in parenting and management and remember that if ever your protégé decides on a complete career change, that’s not a fail – it’s a reflection of how well you did your job.