Paul Butler: Lessons from fathering

Paul Butler

Last month, much of the world celebrated Father’s Day.

Did you know that Father’s Day was founded in Spokane, Washington, at the YMCA in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, who was born in Arkansas? Its first celebration was in the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910. Her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who raised his six children there.

In today’s world where nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce or separation, it’s important to remind ourselves of the honorable duty fathers have in the raising of their children. Children want to make their fathers proud and an involved father promotes inner growth and strength. Studies have shown that when fathers are affectionate and supportive, it greatly affects a child’s cognitive and social development. It also instills an overall sense of well-being and self-confidence.

I see so many correlations between good fathering and good leadership. Here are seven that immediately came to mind:

  1. Good fathers are hard workers — just as a good father knows they must work hard and provide for their families, good leaders also understand they too must work hard and provide for their team or their organization. Just as teams and organizations are negatively impacted by a lazy and slothful leader, so is a family.
  2. Good fathers are present — just as children and a wife need their father and husband to be present, a team or organization needs their leader to be present. Fathers and leaders, of course, cannot be in two places at once, and yet I’ve noticed that great leaders prioritize and protect family time, while working hard when they’re at work.
  3. Good fathers are faithful — just as good husbands are faithful to their wives, good leaders are faithful to their team or organization. Bad leaders are always jumping ship — looking for greener grass over the fence and are often lured away by the promise of more money and greater prestige — they lack loyalty. We all know the negative impact infidelity can have on a marriage and upon the children of the marriage.
  4. Good fathers don’t have favorite children — just as it can be harmful to the confidence of a child who doesn’t feel as loved as another, teams and organizations can implode if it’s evident a leader exhibits favoritism. Organizational psychologists call this behavior “micro-inequities” and it can cause a team toxicity — go figure.
  5. Good fathers are actively involved in the development of their children — just as good fathers support and cheer on their children in academic matters or extracurricular activities, great leaders help to develop their direct reports. When I think back over the leaders who got the best out of me; it’s the ones who seemed to care about my personal and professional development.
  6. Good fathers are selfless — just as good fathers put the needs of their children ahead of their own needs, a good leader is more interested in wanting the best for the employees within their team or organization than looking out or their own self-serving agenda.
  7. Good fathers correct bad behavior — just as good fathers correct bad behavior from their children in an appropriate manner, good leaders deal effectively with such difficulties within their team or organization. No one enjoys being disciplined or being the disciplinarian, but I often think how much of our societal issue and workplace dysfunction could have been corrected at home long before it became a pattern of behavior for the individual.

Yet, having said all the above, a child has free will, and a father can raise two children in exactly the same manner, but they may not turn out the same. Likewise, a leader may provide, be present, be loyal, not exhibit favoritism, be involved in the development of their direct reports, be selfless and correct bad behavior — only to find different responses from different employees.

Regardless of the outcome, a good father, like a good leader, focuses on doing the “right thing” in the hope that his efforts will produce good fruit. He knows the harvest may be enjoyed today, maybe tomorrow or it may never come because of factors outside of his control. He knows his job is simply to sow good seed and so for today, he just keeps being a good father and a good leader.

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