A Father’s Unity of Life – Part 1

Posted: June 27, 2013 in Fatherhood

This a great article by James Stenson

Let’s start off with a crucially important concept: unity of life.

You are one person, not two. You are the same man, both on the job with your colleagues and at home with your wife, family and friends. You cannot live two lives; you must be the same person in both spheres of responsible operation.

Men who are weak and ineffective fathers tend to split their lives between work and family. That is, they live as producers at work but consumers at home.

On the job they dedicate their powers to serious, responsible activity; but at home they rest passively in pleasurable recreation. In the workplace, their character strengths operate at all-out exertion — everyone sees and respects their sound judgment, sense of responsibility, tough-minded perseverance, and self-control.

But at home, their inner strengths rest on idle, set aside (so to speak) for the day, and thereby hidden from their children’s eyes.

Successful fathers do not live like this. They are smart, effective leaders at home as well as on the job. Their strengths of character impress their children as much as their colleagues at work. Their devotion to their family, in fact, gives meaning and purpose to their strenuous life of professional work. The main purpose of their work is the welfare of their family, and their children know this.

In short, a successful father exercises leadership at home as much as on the job — and in roughly the same ways.  What does this mean? Let’s first look at how a man typically exercises effective leadership in the workplace, and then let’s turn to see how the same attitudes and behaviors apply to leadership at home.

Leadership on the job

What are the traits found most commonly among successful business and professional leaders? I ask you here to think about the best bosses you’ve ever worked with or met in your line of business, whatever it may be. What attitudes and actions characterize an outstanding leader, maybe the sort of leader you aspire to become?

Here are some traits that I think you’ll recognize….

  • An outstanding professional leader has a clear long-term vision about the company’s future success, and he communicates this goal, at least occasionally, to everyone who works with him. He thinks 5 to 20 years ahead, and this goal-setting drives him and his team forward — for he knows that people’s efforts are only effective when they’re focused on some future achievement.
  • He maintains a strong sense of teamwork. He looks mostly for strengths in people and sees his job as coordinating those strengths toward the team’s collective endeavors. He helps his colleagues, especially subordinates, develop their strengths and skills as they carry out clear-cut responsibilities.
  • He is service-oriented. He knows that professional success means constant delivery of high-quality service. A business works best when it’s dedicated to effecting change for the better in the lives of clients or customers, and his job is make this happen effectively and consistently.
  • Though he thinks of the future, he pays attention to present detail, the nitty-gritty lying before him. His eye for detail derives, in fact, from his long-term vision and commitment to service.
  • He constantly sets priorities, and sticks to them. When faced with a problem, he asks, “How important will this be a year from now, five years from now, or later?” Within this framework, he shrugs off or ignores unimportant snarls and minor setbacks. He knows how to concentrate, to focus entirely on what’s before him. He works to eliminate unnecessary distractions.
  • He tends to see problems as challenges, not just hassles. He has a kind of sporting spirit about his work, and he knows that any sport involves occasional bruises, mistakes, and disappointments. He learns from mistakes, his own and others’, and helps his subordinates do the same.
  • If resources are scarce, including time, he works smart. He makes the most of what he has available, including slivers of time here and there. He doesn’t procrastinate; papers don’t just sit cluttered on his desk. He thinks before he acts, then acts intelligently and decisively.
  • He takes personal responsibility — no excuses, no alibis, no whining, no “victim complex,” no shifting of blame. He accepts the consequences of his free decisions and actions, including mistakes.
  • When he’s unsure what to do, he secures the best advice he can and weighs it seriously. Then he acts. In any event, he never lets indecision lead to inaction. His job is to act — that’s what he’s paid for.
  • He’s conscious of his authority, and comfortable with it. He has rights because he has duties. His knows his rights come with the job.
  • He has self-respect and self-confidence, and these traits inspire respect and confidence from others.
  • He rewards good effort, making praise as specific as blame — and just as sincere. He affirms and encourages his people, pressing them to put out their very best regardless of shortcomings. He sees part of his job as keeping obstacles out of his people’s way, eliminating whatever holds them back from their best performance.
  • When he must correct others, he corrects the fault, not the person. He comes down on the foul-up, not the one who did it. He corrects people privately, never in public. If he goes too far, he apologizes. He puts fairness ahead of his ego.
  • He’s a good listener. When people come to him with problems, he gives them his undivided attention. While listening, he tries to understand them: their motives, their experience (or lack thereof), their needs and uncertainties. He reflects: “Is there a bigger problem underlying this little problem? What is it? How can I help?”
  • When he thinks about his people’s professional development, his frame of reference (consciously or intuitively) comprises the virtues: sound judgment, responsibility, perseverance, self-discipline. He wants and expects his people’s effort to grow in these areas. His company depends on it. He knows his business is only as strong as the people who work for it.
  • He’s a professional. That is, he sets high standards for his own performance and does his best work whether he feels like it or not. In a sense, he’s strong enough to ignore fatigue, anxiety, or temptations to slack off. He enjoys his top performance; his delight in life comes as much from his work as from his leisured recreation.
  • Consciously or otherwise, he knows that no ideal becomes reality without sacrificial effort. His high personal and professional ideals, in fact, transform his hard work into a sporting adventure.
  • If you’ve been lucky enough to work with a boss like this, you know how enjoyable the experience can be. Bosses of this caliber teach their people an enormous amount, and very often win their warm devotion.

Many workers, in fact, come to see such a boss as a type of father figure. The man’s combination of vision and practicality, firmness and understanding, self-esteem and spirit of service, competence and desire to keep learning, seriousness of purpose and lightness of touch — all equally characterize a great, dedicated father.

Here’s the point: If you are now this kind of professional man (no matter what kind of work you do), or if you aspire to this ideal for your future leadership at your job, you can be a great father. The attitudes, values, and behaviors described above — effective leadership on the job — apply as well to life in the family. A great father is a great man, a man of integrity, and such men do not live divided lives.

Part 2 will continue tomorrow.

Walt Disney

A man should never neglect his family for business.” 

-Walt Disney


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