One of my concerns as a father is how much our children tie performance to the love Sarah and I have for them. For instance, do we still love them when they strike out in little league? Or do we love them when their teacher points out a flaw in their school work? Of course the answer is a resounding YES, but do they understand and accept this?
The boys are currently eight and six respectively, so part of our almost-nightly winter routine is a fun game of floor hockey in our unfinished basement (in the summer it is whiffle ball outside!). In our games I have observed both boys seeking my approval when they make a good play. I have also noticed them sulking when they miss out on a play. They are competitive and work hard to beat me, but I don’t let them win —although I do let the six year old have some “freebies” when he needs some encouragement. My goal has been to drive home the reality than in sports and life you win and lose.
Because of this, winning has become a big deal to them when it happens. It has also come at a cost. For neither of them naturally handle losing well —yet. While this may be somewhat of a good thing —it produces a competitive spirit in them to get better and improve —it also is something that, as their dad, I need to help them learn to do well because life involves losing. In fact, as I have come to learn myself the hard way, basing one’s worth on performance is foolhardy because the moments of triumph are much less frequent than the moments of losing.
This is obviously hard for young kids to understand. If I am honest, it can also be hard for me to understand.
The combination of the boys looking for my approval when making good plays, and them sulking when losing, led me to create some controllable performance metrics to ingrain in them. I told them that these three things (I did not call them metrics!) were what matter to me. I share here because I think they are worth our — grown up business leaders — consideration. They are:
I explained to the boys that every sport they play needs to involve safety. Thinking from an organizational leadership perspective, I started here because safety has to be present for people to thrive. This is true in T-ball and what we do at Hoffer Plastics. Safety is paramount, and I want this to take root in them.
Effort comes next because it is the only controllable aspect of performance. Results are always a lagging measure. My belief is that they often do come when effort is there. Of course, they might not come on our preferred timeline (see my golf game), but they often do come.
I am driving the idea of effort into our boys because their default is to view my love in a positive outcome rather than in the effort. To drive this home, I have asked them if I would be mad if they struck out 3 times during a baseball game this spring, to which they both said “no,” as long as they were trying their best. Conversely, would I be upset if they got a big hit and didn’t run their hardest to first base? ”No,” our oldest chimed in. I then corrected this assumption to drive in the point that effort means running hard all the time. I could tell that this was surprising to him because he wants the big hit —don’t we all? Yet, this is the key distinction: effort > outcome.
Finally, life is short, and we need to make the best of it by having fun. This is true both in little league AND business. Yes, business! Fun involves having a positive attitude, being a good sport, and encouraging others. I also believe it comes in sequential order: Safety, Effort, and then fun because how can things be fun when we are not safe and/or trying our best? Fun also means laughing at our mistakes and picking others up when they make theirs. And in the context of youth sports, it means that if it is not fun, our family is not participating (Note to parents, I am driving this home to our kids because there is so much more to life than youth sports. I don’t care that “everyone else” is doing it. We are having fun, or not playing. Period).
I share these —safe, effort, and fun— because they are useful reminders to us leaders. For in order to be someone worth following we need to create environments where effort is the primary currency, and fun is a natural outcome of hard work cultivated in a safe working environment.