Five Important Conversations I Had with My Kids
As a parent, an educator and a leader, my kids grew up observing my bias toward growth and lifelong learning. Over the years, I would take them out to breakfast or lunch, or we’d go on a trip, and we’d talk about life and leadership. I wanted them to not only be career-ready but life-ready. Here are five of the topics I discussed with them:
1. Your EQ is more important than your IQ.
My kids experienced what most kids do today—schools that placed much emphasis on testing or smarts. While we valued studying and good grades, I focused on the great differentiator: emotional intelligence. Author Daniel Goleman said, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you’re not able to manage distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going very far.” In fact, I boiled it down this way to my kids: Success in school is 75% IQ and 25% EQ. In life, it’s the reverse: 75% EQ and 25% IQ. Goleman summarized the issue this way: “In a high-IQ job pool, soft skills like discipline, drive, and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding.”
2. Maturity demands that you get over yourself.
Both of my kids aspired to come across as more “mature” than their peers who were into childish fads or stupid social media stunts. I capitalized on this aspiration and began talking to them about what “maturity” looks like as early as fifth grade. I created a list called, “The Marks of Maturity” which I later included in my book, Artificial Maturity. In most cases, the qualities that mark a mature person are ones that illustrate the person has gotten over themselves and no longer have to put themselves at the center of attention. They overcome “attention-seeking behaviors.” They are humble as they see how others played a role in their success; they’re able to keep long-term commitments. They are grateful for what they enjoy. Finally, the goal of life is not to avoid pain or to find easier ways to live; it is to invest yourself in a worthwhile cause that is bigger than you.
3. Growth will always require a struggle.
This topic was a tough one. It was an issue I tried to teach experientially, not just verbally. The bottom line is: any goal we set, any target we try to hit, any worthwhile aspiration will require sacrifice and struggle to reach it. When my kids saw me struggle with a big goal I set, I tried to not hide it from them; I wanted them to see me (a grown adult) wrestling with the emotions that come with hard work—wanting to quit, wishing someone would rescue me from the work, or desiring someone to join me in my self-pity. My son and daughter watched me work non-stop on a book project that took 13 long months in my basement office. One year, I wrote three books in addition to my normal day-to-day job. I wanted them to see the value of the struggle and the satisfaction that came with doing more than what was expected. Brian Koslow once said, “To increase your effectiveness, make your emotions subordinate to your commitments.”
4. Success will likely take longer than you think it will.
I spoke to my kids about the apparent “overnight sensations” that seemed to pop up on television or YouTube. I explained that 99% of the time, their success wasn’t overnight. Americans called the Beatles an overnight success, but they held concerts for many years in Germany in obscurity. I used a Habitude® to explain that success cooks in a crockpot, not a microwave. It takes longer, but it tastes better in the end. I would tell them that they’d sabotage themselves if they could not delay gratification. I served under John C. Maxwell for 20 years and didn’t start my non-profit, Growing Leaders, until I was 43 years old. I was in a “crockpot” preparing for the role I have today. We must learn to work and wait.
5. The first person you must lead is yourself.
Eric Micha’el Leventhal put it this way: “We are most powerful the moment we no longer need to be powerful.” In a day that promotes leadership on the resume or transcript, I tried to teach my own kids that we have no right to lead others until we’ve proven we can lead ourselves. Then, people can look at us and say: I want to follow you because I respect you. You’ve earned the right to influence me, not by a position but by discipline. In fact, I believe genuine leadership requires no badge or title. I asked my kids to read biographies of men and women who had no official title, but who influenced their world. When we make self-leadership the goal, everything else naturally follows. This means managing our emotions and our will. Mavis Maxhura summarized it this way, “Emotions can get in the way—or get you on the way.”
By the way—if you’re interested, these kinds of conversations are sparked through the images in our course: Habitudes for Social and Emotional Learning.