Leaders are goal-oriented people. As such, they have high expectations for themselves and turn their attention to the world around them in anticipation of tackling tough tasks that will allow them to achieve the goals they have set. They often focus on taking their associates, employees, or organizations to new heights, but they often fail to consider how well they are leading what should be the most important group of people in their lives: their families. To be an effective leader outside the home, it is important to first be an effective leader inside the home.
Why is leadership at home important? As stated above, familial relationships should be the most meaningful in our lives because they are the longest lasting and most intimate relationships we have. Jobs, coworkers, and friends may come and go frequently over the course of a lifetime; our families will always be our families. Additionally, we will also likely have more influence over our family members than any other people, so it is important to demonstrate qualities of effective leadership at home given how significantly our relations can be impacted by us now and well into the future. Finally, the household is the place where our leadership skills may be most frequently and seriously put to the test, for our families know us like no others. They see us at our best and at our worst, and while they may be more forgiving than others of our failings, they may also present the most difficult and numerous challenges to our leadership. While it is nice to think of home as a sanctuary, it is also a proving ground for leadership, and undisciplined and hypocritical behavior here will lead to failure just as surely as it will lead to failure in the workplace. Running a household trains us to be better leaders.
So how can we sharpen our leadership skills at home to become better leaders in general? The following are three suggestions that can improve leadership both inside and, by extension, outside our domiciles:
1. Invest time and take advantage of opportunities. Our domestic lives can be every bit as busy as our professional lives, so make the most of the time you have together and stay alert for teachable moments. Come together as a family at mealtimes and discuss what is going on in each person’s life and in the world as a whole. Use bedtime as an opportunity to share stories that teach morals. Discuss things with family members as you drive to and from places. Investing this time with your family will not only allow you to strengthen bonds with your loved ones but also give you plenty of chances to share experience and wisdom with each other, which in turn will help everyone grow, including you.
2. Model proper behaviors and instill values and important principles in your family members. Teach your children that decisions have consequences, and show them through your example and teaching how to achieve desirable outcomes. Praise your loved ones and reward them for making right choices, and patiently but consistently point out poor decisions or shortcomings when they go afoul. Learn what challenges your family members face, and inculcate principles in your children that will help them navigate through difficult situations now and in the future. Give them age-appropriate tasks, and let them stand on their own successes and failures. This will allow them to develop self-confidence when they experience success, and their failures will reinforce the importance of making good decisions to avoid negative consequences while also teaching them that success seldom comes easily. It is important for the next generation of leaders to begin learning these things from an early age.
3. Learn to say, “No.” Sometimes you have to be the “bad guy” because ultimately the buck stops with you. Your children may claim that you are “mean” or that you “hate them” if you don’t give them what they want, but there are times when you can’t allow yourself to be manipulated by hard feelings or harsh words, especially if your decisions are in their best interests or the best interest of the family as a whole. The same holds true if your spouse grouses about your decision-making if you can not come to a place of agreement even though a difficult choice must be made. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made for an individual’s own good or for the general welfare of all involved, and as a leader you have to be willing to make hard choices that may not be popular.
Practicing these habits of effective leadership at home will reinforce leadership qualities that will serve you well elsewhere, too. As a leader in a household and in an organization, you need to invest time in your people, create a positive environment through the principles and values you espouse, and occasionally make difficult decisions that may not be well received but may be necessary for the ultimate health of the enterprise. Learning to successfully lead a household will make you a better leader in any situation, which is why the home is truly where leadership begins.
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