Having Kids

Fred Wilson beat me to the punch with today’s “Having Kids” post on the heels of Paul Graham’s essay “Having Kids” last week. Paul spoke to his thought process and shift in world view upon becoming a parent while Fred piggy-backed with some specific insights of his own.

Both are thoughtful and worth reading. I certainly felt them resonate with my own journey.

15 years ago I was a selfish single guy with a certain perception of kids and a lot to learn about life. I then transitioned to a still-pretty-selfish start-up guy with a young family that he spent physical time with but, sadly, was not really “present” as much as he should have been.

I find myself now the father of 5 with an oldest who’s not even a teen yet. I’m part of all of their lives and I’ve shed enough operating focus and start-up stress to actually be present and engaged. In some ways, I was always there for them and, in other ways, only in the last three years have I really been parenting them – at least in the way my wife has been and that I was lucky enough to have my mother and father parent me growing up.

It’s worth noting that I used to catch a ton of flak for using “parenting” analogies with regard to leadership and managing within my former company. Some people have strong negative emotions attached to it. I get that sensitivity although I don’t share it.

My view is that whether it’s kids or employees, the parent’s (manager) job is to care / love, define success and hold accountable while doing their best to practice what they preach. How it all goes is in many ways a reflection of the parents investment and approach to it. (Side note – board and advisory work is Grand-parenting. More on that another time).

Considering all of that, I looked back on operating RevZilla and searched my experiences for moments where through today’s more experienced parental eyes I might want a do-over.

The one area I kept coming back to was empathy.

I have always prided myself of having a strong EQ, walking the walk and building a healthy culture centered on focus, trust – and intensity.

But today when I think about one of my children working for me 5-7 years ago I cringe at times. I could have said or done certain things with more compassion. No excuses.

When early employees felt the loss of the business scaling up and becoming less personal for them, I could have been more patient or understanding as they processed it.

When early employees were unnerved and sad that they no longer reported to a founder, I could have made more of an effort to bridge the gap.

When I/we helped someone realize that they were no longer the best one to lead their team as we grew, I could have made more effort to acknowledge the pain of what that meant for them.

When someone invested all of their talent and time with a great attitude but ultimately came up short of the experience or functional demands of the job, I could have made sure they felt fully valued – even if the numbers needed something better than their best moving forward.

The list goes on…

I don’t believe I should have relaxed my standards for myself or anyone else. It still has to be a meritocracy. Time is not on your side. There are no entitlements. Every business and market opportunity has an arc. You capture it moving as fast as you can, wasting as few opportunities as possible- or you don’t. Doing something special is a tradeoff for you and for your team.

But in certain moments when people were wobbly or or flat out feeling the sting, I could have been better for them.

Being a better parent means still being objective about actual needs. It’s not catering to squeaky wheels or raising soft adults who have never skinned their knees, but it is ensuring appropriate feelings are acknowledged and met with appropriate empathy. Sometimes it just takes a moment.

It’s easy to say all of this now that I no longer have the schedule or the stress that consumed nearly all of me for the better part of a decade. How do you expend the extra energy to save someone from drowning if you’re drowning yourself? I like to think I could have dug deep and performed better on this front, but as a first-time founder, I may or may not have had it in the tank. Some days you are just trying not to look stupid in front of 100 people while behind the scenes you are thinking about keeping the biz and your marriage from cratering, simultaneously.

I think about all my kids, each with their unique talents, paths and challenges, especially as I see them growing into their own people. I see how they interact at school and at home. I see the things that they work hard at, wish for and believe in. Sometimes those things don’t come easy or may be nearly impossible, but I won’t tell them to stop.

I then imagine how they may be treated in the workforce someday.

I hope they work at companies that evaluate more than just their quantitative output. Even more, I hope they work for leaders who care as much as I did, but are more empathetic than I was in my first attempt.

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