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

And now for the final installment of the Top 10 Tips for Having Three Kids & Leading Change in the World. 
Here are the last 3 things you need to know…


This one I owe entirely to my wife. Our two boys are the kinds of children you see only in catalogs. They don’t just go to sleep when they’re told they sleep in on the weekends. They don’t just eat their vegetables they actually savor them and ask for seconds. My oldest boy complained about going to the movies because, “they don’t have any healthy food at the theater.”
Apparently my daughter totally missed out on the Stepford gene. She detests sleep. Will argue with you that the sky is in fact actually not blue. And she refuses to eat what’s put in front of her just on principle. 
But in the midst of my frustration, my wife pointed out something profound: if we only had the boys, we’d be terrible parents. They don’t demand our attention. They don’t cause us to think through parenting strategies. We could put them on autopilot. Our daughter made us parents and gave us the skills for working through issues now that we’ll need later in life, because, trust me, while she’s the problem child now, they’re all problem children. Each one will eventually have some issue or set of issues that will test us as parents. Better that we get to learn how to be parents now so that when the real stuff comes, we at least know how to talk to each other about it.
It’s your problem child – the tough client, the intransigent NGO, the stubborn employee – that makes you a leader. A few years ago this one company always gave us tons of grief. They were the first to point out our flaws, to cry foul if we didn’t give them their due, and the first to go on the offensive. But when I sat down with them, human-to-human, they were the most forthcoming with their insights. Their negative energy had value. 
The worst thing in life is not hate. It’s ambivalence. Even those that hate you, care. It’s those that don’t care, don’t even give you a second thought, that really suck the life out of you. Their ambivalence can be contagious. Inside the organization it can lead to people checking out, quitting in place. Outside the organization, they become like the Sargasso Sea: a dead calm that takes the wind out of your sails.
The “problem children” call you to leadership. They point out your flaws so you can address them. They’re like the canaries in the mineshaft alerting you to problems before they become catastrophic. Embrace them. Without them you’re not really a leader.
I had a ton on my mind and a ton to do.  But, it was Saturday and my daughter wanted to have a tea party. She doesn’t understand or care about all the email stacking up in my in-box, the calls that need returning, or the blog posts that need writing. Her time was now.
Parenting only happens when we’re together. She needed me right then so my opportunity to be a father to her was only then. I had to push aside all the other things weighing on me and get myself totally present, totally engaged in her reality. Because that wasn’t a tea party. It was her experience of one of the most significant people in her life.
In the end, nothing will have as much impact on the world as the time I spend with my children. The emails, the phone calls, the blog posts will all fade from memory. The impact I have on them, however, is my most enduring legacy and the only thing that will truly live on after me.
As a leader, it’s the time you spend with people that creates change in the world. I see all these executives – myself included – multi-tasking our way through meetings. It’s the time we spend with each other that really creates change. It’s the impact we have on the people around us that magnifies our impact and gives us a shot at really accomplishing something bigger than ourselves.
I can’t improve on the Mahatma: be the change you want to see in the world. My father-in-law and I like to debate how much of a child’s personality comes from nature vs. nurture. I don’t know the answer but I do know this: when I show up ready to be a good parent, they show up ready to be good children. It doesn’t always work right away, but in the end, if I’m fully present living in their moment (not the moment, their moment), we usually get along pretty well.
What’s more, I often find myself being taught by them. Ever watch a kid walk? Doesn’t happen in my house. They run. Life is now. It’s urgent. There’s no time for walking. Ever see a kid hold a grudge? I’ve yet to see it. They get mad, they get over it. There are too many cool things to do to be weighed down by what happened five minutes ago.
By showing up, by being present, they’re changing me, making me into a better person and hopefully a better parent. If I show up and get totally present with the people I’m trying to lead, trying to engage, trying to make change happen with, they show up. But I gotta be there first.
For Tips 1-7, view my previous blog posts.
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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