Paul Ryan, the Family Man America Needs

When outlining his demands for U.S. House Speaker, Paul Ryan’s statement that he “cannot and will not give up my family time,” triggered a flurry of reaction pieces about the example Ryan sets for working parents.

Ryan supporters applaud his courage to make family demands when most Moms and Dads fear doing the same.

The popular commentary misses an important aspect of Ryan’s example though. Sure, Ryan, with his public demands, models the art of knowing your value, asking for what you need and priotizing family first. More importantly, however, he reminds us of the value of character in our chosen leaders.

Character, the moral center that keeps a leader focused on the big picture and steady when navigating complex crises, trumps whether that leader will spend infinite time on the job.

Ryan is not a great candidate for Speaker despite his family demands; he’s the leader we need because of them.

Some will say this job is different. Speaker of the House, leading a body that represents the entirety of Americans, does not compare to being CEO of a consumer goods company, for example. In political office, you’re a public servant and must sacrifice it all for a period of time.

I’d say that the world of business and the world of politics have something to learn from each other in this regard. Committing oneself to work, in any industry, is a virtue. It shows character.

We want leaders who commit to their work with a sense of passion, as if the country depends on it, and with an eye towards how it serves others, regardless of what they sell and to whom.

And in politics, leaders should look to corporate America where a company must value leaders who keep a pulse on their customers, their values and behaviors. The bottom line never rests, and living in your customer’s shoes allows you to serve them better.

For Ryan, spending time at home, in “real America,” nurturing his family should keep him grounded in a way that perpetual meetings with the wealthiest Americans cannot. The most well-connected to power are generally disconnected from the American experience.

The lesson from Ryan’s choice to prioritize family is not about work-life balance; it’s not even about family per se. It’s about character and how we choose to value the eternal, our responsiblity for those we love, over the immediate gratification that comes from maximizing external power.

We all know the stories of parents who plateau in their careers after having children because they “cannot and will not” give up their family time to go toe-to-toe with colleagues who burn the midnight oil. This dynamic affects women the most.

With Ryan, we see an example of a generation who believes they can, and should, do it all. That means more time at home, less time at work, and hopefully more ethical leadership overall.

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