Thursday, January 29, 2015

Be the man you wish your son to become

When my son was born, I suddenly realized that I had created (with some help from my wife) a small human who would be relying on me for everything in his life for the next 18 (+) years. I now had the power of life and death over another member of my species and had to some extent become his god. The responsibility that came with this revelation was stunning. What if I screwed it up!? Every day we see and meet grownups we fear will be the future versions of our kids. The idiot on the train who pushes the mother carrying a baby out of the way to grab a seat, the morons who honk their horns at my kid's (well marked) school bus EVERY morning when it stops to pick them up, not to mention the violent examples shown daily on the CNN.

I knew that my son would be molded by his environment and that his friends would have a big impact on his development as well but he would also be looking up to me from the moment he opened his eyes at the hospital and I felt that I needed to live up to the challenge. I was reminded of a quote by Jack Nicholson in the movie As Good As It Gets , "You make me want to be a better man." In the movie he was saying this to Helen Hunt but it described my feelings towards my new son perfectly.

Thinking back to the images and memories I had of growing up with my own father, I realized how much I had picked up from him.  Some of which you can read about here in the article I wrote for Father's Day.

I decided to make some changes. I became more disciplined about work, I did not want my son to grow up thinking that his Dad was lazy. Especially since I work at home often and he could see me at my desk almost every day.  For example, I stopped playing solitaire on the computer when I should be working. I wanted him to see that when I was supposed to be working, I was actually doing what needed to be done and hopefully he would imitate that attitude.

I started exercising more. I stopped smoking cigars (for the most part) because I did not want to be hypocritical about saying that smoking is bad for you and then do it myself. Granted, my upcoming midlife crisis may have contributed to this one a bit but losing weight and being healthy was a habit I wanted my son to adopt. The added benefit has been that I can keep up with him and still win (for now) when we wrestle.

I had always been an optimistic guy but I make the point of being positive more often and rarely criticising  people. There are a lot of difficult people in the world and nobody is exempt from dealing with them (I may very well be one of them!) but if my son lets himself get caught up in all the drama he will not only be frustrated and unhappy but will also be less productive.

This idea began 14 years ago (today) and I realize every day that it is an ongoing project. Even now at 44 I still catch myself observing how my own father handles things (life, wife, kids...) and I  know it has an effect on me. Even if it takes my whole life, I will continue striving to be the man I hope my son will someday become.

Acknowledgement: My wife is an amazing mother and contributes as much (if not more) to the growth and development of our kids. While this article is mainly about me and my son I want to give her credit for everything she does for all of us everyday.
P.S. My totally amazing daughter will receive her own article at a future date. I have a similar feeling related to her with some gender based differences I will explain.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Stay calm, relax, take a deep breath." - Presence

When an interviewer sits down across from a recent college graduate (your son or daughter) and prepares to evaluate their capabilities for the job and their fit with her company, chances are she has already made 70% of the decision. They will have taken in the way your son is sitting, how he is dressed, the expression on his face, maybe even the way he walked in or how he stood up when the interviewer came into the room. We can lump all of these observations (conscious or unconscious) under the purview of presence.

Looking up presence in Webster I was surprised at how many different meanings there are.  The one I was looking for though is: the bearing, carriage, or air of a person; especially: stately or distinguished bearinga noteworthy quality of poise and effectiveness.

Considering the impact presence has on our children's chances for getting a job offer, we should spend at least a little time helping them to improve. One of the challenges with presence though is that it is not just one thing. Presence covers a whole range of physical, verbal, and mental attributes.

With younger kids, working on the physical is a good start. It is also something that most parents are already suffering through. Raise your hand if you ever told your 5 year old to "sit still" or ""look at me when I am talking to you" or "stand up straight!" Now raise your hand if you have said these same things to your 15 year old? OK, everyone can put their hands down it was a rhetorical question, I know you have all done it. Now keep doing it and add the occasional explanation as your kids get old enough to understand. For example, crossing your arms when speaking with someone makes the other person feel that you are not accepting or listening openly to the conversation.  It is a negative posture.  If you want to be accepted, then open your arms.

"Stay calm, relax, take a deep breath." These words are ones I have used with my kids but also with candidates when helping them to prepare for their upcoming interviews. No matter how prepared you are, if you are sweating buckets and stumbling over your sentences the interviewer is going to walk away with the impression that you are lacking confidence and cannot handle stress.  There are too many stress management techniques around for me to go into each of them now so take some time to research and help your kids develop methods that work for them.

Pay attention, make eye contact, respond to the interviewers non-verbal clues - ("read the air" in Japanese). These are all examples of mindfulness. It shows that our kids are in the moment and focused on the task at hand which at this particular moment means concentrating on the interviewer. I wish I had a secret formula to share with other parents on how to teach this to our kids but it seems that like so many other things our kids learn from us it has to come from countless repetition and being the role model for proper behavior.

Manners are an indication that your son will be respectful of other people and your daughter will not cause problems in the office. Important issues for an interviewer to consider. Combine this with basic hygiene like brushing teeth before going into the meeting or using deodorant and your son's image will go up.

Finally, smile. Unlike wolves, where smiling is another way of showing how sharp your teeth are just before going for the jugular, we humans tend to find smiles friendly and welcoming.

In case you were worried that all this effort would be a waste since it only matters in the job interview, think again. A positive personal presence will contribute time and again to your son's or daughter's advancement in the workplace.  It is worth the time spent understanding it and teaching our children about presence.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

It is not who you know, but who your parents know!

"It isn't what you know but who you know." This is the phrase I hear whenever someone talks about a successful person who seems to have achieved their fame and glory through connections rather than skill. Most likely, there is always a bit of both luck and skill but it makes those of us without great connections (or skill?) feel better to imagine otherwise, right? Like the major league catcher who only hits .200 and drops the ball all the time but still starts because Dad owns the team.

When it comes to our kids though, who can blame the Dad who helps his son achieve his dream of playing major league ball? As adults, we can build our own professional relationships to help us with our careers or to make a sale.  It is easier because the people we are approaching and connecting with are our peers, at least in the sense that they are also working for a living.  Our kids, in both high school and college, have more difficulty making those connections.  There is less in common between a 19 year old college student and the head of sales at Apple.  While peer connections from college and high school will be valuable in the future as friends spread out and move up the various corporate ladders, your son's buddy from the basketball team is not likely to be able to help him get that first job out of college.

Since becoming a recruiter, I have heard often that 60 to 70% of people find their jobs through a personal connection rather than want ads or recruiters. While not great news for me, it does help us to guide our kids.  Rather than spending hours and hours working on a resume and scrolling through job descriptions, get out and start meeting people. Which brings us back to the issue of building a network when you are 19.  Mom and Dad enter stage left! In class last semester, one of my students asked if I thought it was OK for her Dad to help her get a job at an acquaintance's company. It was not her Dad's company and it was also not a vendor trying to sell to her Dad.  I said "absolutely" why not.  Finding the right job after college is HARD and kids should feel free too use whatever (legal and ethical) means are at their disposal.  If Mom or Dad have good connections and can introduce them into a role, go for it.

Mom and Dad, don't hesitate to help. Yes, our kids may screw up, they may not do well in their first job and yes it may affect your relationship with your colleague or friend.  But if we are not going to believe in our kids then who will? If your kids are younger (not yet in high school or college) you can still get started.  Building a good connection takes time.  It is an investment on your part and should be mutually beneficial.  If you are not involved in your local community then perhaps now is a good time to start.  By the time your kids reach the age where letters of recommendation for college or introductions for jobs become important, you will have a group of people you can turn to and ask for help for your kids.

As our kids get older, bring them along (whenever feasible) to parties or events. I have been bringing my kids to my MBA alumni get-togethers and I think it gives them a chance to see how adults interact with each other as well as opportunities for them too practice talking to grown-ups other than teachers and relatives. Now, when I go without them they get upset! The people they meet will be more willing to help in the future if they know not only you but also your kids. Not every connection has to be a close family friend or relative to make it valuable. 

Who knows, as you work to build your network to help your kids, you may find it benefits your own career as well.