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October 03, 2011
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Home » To Change the World, First Have Three Kids (Part 1 of 3)


We have three young kids-- two boys (6 and 2) and a girl (4)--which in parenting circles gives us a status somewhere between sideshow freak and Tibetan monk.  People wonder, "Why on earth..." and, "how on earth do you do it?" Parents considering having more than one seek us out for advice and to see if we’ve gone completely or just partially insane.


So last week when another of my friends thinking about adding to his brood sought me out, I took it in stride. What took me by surprise, though, was how much my advice to him about kids mirrored the advice I’ve accumulated over the years on leadership.
Over the next three blog posts, I will be revealing my 10 Tips for Having Three Kids & Leading Change in the World.  
4.    Change doesn't come on your timetable
5.    It's gonna get messy
6.    You will always be distracted
7.    You sleep your way to the top
8.    Your "problem child" makes you a parent
9.    You think you’re here for you but you’re not
10.   In the end, you can only change yourself
Here are the first three…
Our friend Chris McGoff, who coincidentally just published a great book on leadership, has six kids.  When we started having kids we asked him how he and his wife do it.  He told us, when you have one kid, you take turns parenting.  Totally reasonable and do-able.  When you have two kids, you're constantly parenting.  It's man-to-man defense when you're together and if there's only one parent around, you've got two hands, two arms, and two legs so you can manage.  Again, reasonable.  Do-able.
When you have three kids, it's not just a switch from man- to zone-defense.  You've actually exceeded your physical capabilities.  You're doing something unreasonable: you're expecting more from yourself than the resources you have can deliver.  But you're also engaged in a noble enterprise vital to the continuation of the species, your DNA, and the lives of at least three little people.  You can't fail.
It's the same when you set out to do something amazing in the world.  By definition, you've taken on more than you're capable of.  You're going to strain your resources past the breaking point.  You're going to have breakdowns and failures.  Just acknowledge that upfront and never give up.  What you're doing is too important, to be stopped by silly little things like reasonable expectations.
Recently we were planning a new event, one we’d never put on before, with less time to plan than we’d ever had before. I could tell one of my colleagues was feeling the strain. We’d pushed past our resources trying to do way more than our little merry band could realistically accomplish – and it looked like we were about to fail with too few people registered to attend. I reminded her that a few years ago we launched a similar event and had even fewer people registered and even fewer showed up. That event was now our flagship. We played full out, we pushed past our resources and we accomplished something totally unreasonable and unexpected, and we know we can do it again.
This is the number one difference between two kids and three.  Parents of two will ask me, "How much more work is the third?"  My answer: none.  You're already maxed out at two.  You can't do any more.  I call this the McGoff Corollary.  According to Chris, once you have two you're constantly parenting.  Adding one more or five more doesn't add work for you.  You can't do more than parent 100% of the time.  You're just constantly parenting with one in queue.  The result: that one in queue is crying.  If you can get used to that, you'll make a great parent of three.
Same thing when you set out to change the world.  You will upset/disappoint/displace at least a few people and sometimes a lot of people.  You might let them down because you don't live up to their or your expectations.  They'll get mad because you took their toys away or denied them what they think is their due.  This makes some leaders callous.  Big mistake.  The trick is to not let it upset you while not getting jaundiced or shutting out the world.
Last month an NGO came to me and said, “That company doesn’t like you guys.” No joke. A lot of companies – especially those on our Black List of the world’s most opaque companies, don’t like us very much. But, this was a well-respected, good corporate citizen… but they hadn’t made our100 Best Corporate Citizens List
Now I could tell you how easily I brushed off their dislike, but I’d be lying. In fact, up until just a few years ago having someone, especially someone respected by others, dislike me would have nearly debilitated me. I like being liked. And part of me wanted to just write them off as another disgruntled firm that hadn’t made the 100 Best cut. 
It took something extra from me to reach out to them and listen to their complaints. They had some legitimate issues, and some not-so-legitimate issues. I took aboard the legitimate ones and the other stuff, well… we’re going to have to live with our disagreements. 
After all, someone will always be crying.
"You are so frustrating!  You're driving me nuts!" said my oldest boy to my daughter.  Now I'm pretty sure he didn't learn that from Dora the Explorer or Elmo.  I'm pretty sure those very words came right out of my mouth. If I’m upset at the way he’s turning out, it’s really my own fault.  How I show up for my kids is how they’ll show up for others. I can’t take credit for all their good behavior, but I have to own the bad things they learn by watching me…and they watch me constantly. I can’t believe how many times something I said in passing became habit-forming for them.
The same is true of leadership. If I show up as hostile, negative, or difficult, that’s how others show up as well. If I show up as helpful, engaging, and positive, more often than not, that’s how people react to me. Now there are bad people in the world and I’m not Pollyanna enough to think that everything will turn out just because I wish it so.
At the same time, I have to be true to my own values. And one of my core values is the Golden Rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated. If I can teach my kids nothing else, that’s it. So I better show up that way.
A few years ago I took over as executive director of an association. The chairman called me the first day on the job and said, “There’s a band of ‘rogue members’ running around Europe using our brand and not following our by-laws. Read them the riot act.” I dug into the issue a bit and found out the “ring-leader” was someone I’d known for awhile. I didn’t know him well, but I figured he’d take my call and he did. I read him the riot act. He read me one right back.
After getting yelled at for a few minutes I said, “I’m on the next flight. Let’s sit down face-to-face.” When I got to his office, we arrayed ourselves around a conference table: Americans on one side, Europeans on the other. After a several tense hours of “discussion” we eventually resolved our issues and became one happy family. But it took me owning up to the misbehavior on our side of the Pond before I could have any credibility in brokering a peace.
Check back here in a couple of days for the next set of tips.
Want to put my observations on leadership to the test? Come to the Commit!Forum September 26-27 in New York City and see how the leaders of the 100 Best Corporate Citizents do it. Learn from the best and make actionable commitments for the coming year. Visit to learn more.
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