3 things I want for my children — and the 2 questions I ask daily to get there.

Parenting and Leadership — same difference?

I’ve had a good response to my written musings and talks on leadership, and if there’s one principle I’ve always aimed to adhere to, it’s that my success as a leader is ultimately measured by how many leaders I help unleash. I explained in a talk last year that my hiring philosophy is fundamentally based around assessing long term leadership potential — if I can envision working for you tomorrow, then I’m going to hire you today.

It’s finally dawned on me that the same underlying principles are at the core of my theoretical parenting philosophy (because let’s be honest, fellow parents in particular will understand that in practice I might occasionally deviate from the intended script…)

My success as a parent is going to be measured by the difference my children make in the world. It’s also going to be credited to my awesome wife who actually does all the parenting while I pontificate about it, but that’s a separate discussion! If my children in some way leave the world in a better state than when they entered it, we’ve all won. Achieving that starts within themselves — if they are happy, contented, and actively contributing to society as their natural self-expression, that will permeate across all their interactions in life. The ultimate pyramid scheme, if you will.

Yes, academic success, being well rounded, and all the usual good stuff are important, and will unquestionably enhance their ability to make that impact. But that’s not what I’m really focused on. Perhaps that’s easy to say, because my kids, as they don’t hesitate to remind me, outperform me in school — I probably shouldn’t have held onto those old report cards.

I think there’s really three things that I’m looking for from them.

Human Decency. I want my children to have a genuine sense of compassion for other people. To be able to understand, empathise, and really care. I shed tears of pride recently, when a report card came home saying

“[…] is a wonderful role model for the other students. […] is a kind and helpful kid who enjoys helping others out inside and outside the classroom.”

I hope I see plenty of straight-A’s from my children, but I’d trade every single one of them for this fundamental humanity to persist.

Engagement and Curiosity. Pointedly, I’m not interested in mere tolerance. To tolerate implies to accept that which you would really prefer not to. The civil rights movement across the globe bred a culture of tolerance, and the likes of Brexit and Trumpism have illustrated the dangers that lurk therein. An eventual unleashing of the more authentic intolerance that was simply suppressed and simmering under the surface.

It excites me when my children want to actively try different cuisines, watch and learn a new dance style, travel to somewhere they’ve never been, celebrate festivals from other cultures. This world will not move forward effectively until we all truly embrace one another.

Standing up for what is right. Always. I’ve spent a lot of my life talking about what is right, and purporting to have a heightened sense of ethics and morality. It’s only after my children started growing up that I have truly started standing up for what is right, even when it’s not the easy option. I hope my children are better than I am in this regard.

People are full of authenticity and integrity when everyone’s watching and things are going well. When there are adverse personal consequences, and/or when nobody is watching however — what happens? Have you ever seen or been someone who surreptitiously litters? If not, pay attention to how much rubbish (wrappers, cups, receipts, etc) you often see between vehicles in a parking lot. Not a co-incidence — people clearly think that nobody can see them littering when there’s big hunks of metal on all sides. That’s why I burst with pride when my I’m walking with my daughter and she always breaks stride to pick up some other person’s litter and put it in the next bin that we come across. Not because anyone told her to — but because she just sees it as the right thing to do.

Now imagine if the leaders at Uber, or at Fox, or all the other companies out there that cover up sexual harassment as if it’s no big deal, actually had the moral fortitude to stand up. Not after-the-fact, when the situation is desperate, and your company is in danger, but at the time, when nobody knows, and they faced having to fire a senior executive who was valuable to the company. Turns out most corporate leaders (and boards) will look the other way and hope the bulge under the carpet doesn’t get too big.

I’m determined that my daughters will have the strength to do what’s right, every time.

I wish there was a magic way to inculcate these things in children, or indeed anybody. If anyone has ideas, please do share them. In the meantime however, I’m finding good success with two questions that I ask my children every day, often to their annoyance.

The first is simply,

“What was the kindest thing you did for someone else today?”

I love that there’s always something, and I think it reinforces the importance of looking out for other people all the time. The ensuing discussions are fascinating — I learn so much more about what goes on at school, who all the characters are, and how they respond in different scenarios. And honestly, I learn lessons in decency from my children.

The second has evolved over time. I now ask

“What would you do differently in your day if you had it to do over?”

In the past, I’ve asked how they failed, or what big mistakes they’ve made — in an effort to encourage pushing hard and taking risks. The current version works even better though, because it really gets them (and me) thinking not only about what didn’t go perfectly, but also about how to learn from that and respond to it. This one often drives some great philosophical discussions — which are remarkably engaging even when had with a 6 or 7 year old.

Of course, my kids then ask me the same questions, and more, in return. So if you decide to do something like this, just be prepared to be in the hot seat too!

I’d love to know what sort of questions other people ask their kids, that get them talking and thinking about how they live their lives. How are you guiding your children to be the leaders of tomorrow?