Parenthood, Leadership and Being On Stage

Posted 10.31.2011

Over the past week, I’ve been reading Walter Issacson’s new book on Steve Jobs. It’s extremely well written and a compelling read. Even if you’re not reading the book, you’ve likely read some of the highlights in the news. One of the stories that’s been retold a lot already is what Steve Jobs learned from his adoptive father, Paul.

Paul Jobs had been a Coast Guard seaman as a young man and moved to Northern California with his new wife, Clara, after leaving the service. Paul was very good with his hands and had a mind for all things mechanical. Some of the jobs he had over the course of his life drew on those skills; others not so much. Over the years , though, he spent a lot of his free time rebuilding old cars, repairing things in his garage workshop and building things like fences around the house. He usually had young Steve at his side talking with him about the beautiful designs of the cars that they worked on, imparting a high standard of craftsmanship when they built a fence or cabinets together and setting up a personal workbench space for his son in the garage. Years later, Steve told his biographer that those early lessons from his dad set him on the path to demanding the quality and aesthetic craftsmanship that Apple products are known for today.

Lynn BlodgettFor good or for bad, parents are leaders. Much like the people who end up in leadership roles in organizations, parents create the environment and teach the lessons that shape perceptions and behaviors. For another example, consider the case of Lynn Blodgett, the CEO of ACS, an 85,000 employee IT business owned by Xerox. In a Corner Office interview with the New York Times this week, Blodgett cited his earliest lessons as coming from his parents. When a health crisis struck one of his sisters, his mom had to figure out a way to contribute to the family income while staying home to take care of her daughter. She leased a data entry keypunch machine, set it up in her daughter’s bedroom and got to work. In the process, she trained her other six children how to do the work. Lynn’s parents eventually grew that operation into a 1,000 person company that he took over as CEO at the age of 27.

Leaders – whether they’re leading at home or in the workplace – are always on stage. Whether they know it or not; whether they like it or not, people are watching and taking their cues from what they see their leaders do. Through what they do and how they do it, leaders shape the future.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely in a leadership role of some kind. It could be formal or informal. It could be paid or unpaid. The chances are good that someone is watching you and that they’re taking their cues from you. It’s what I call in The Next Level picking up a big footprint view of your role.

Who’s watching you? What do you want them to see? What do you want them to take away from what they see?