Marketing Musings

How Becoming a Father Made Me a Better Founder

How Becoming a Father Made Me a Better Founder

What’s something you’re never going to change your mind about?

If you have a growth mindset, the answer to that question should be nothing. I’m a huge fan of Dr. Carol Dweck’s work and the importance of a malleable mindset. So, for 99.9% of things in my life, I live for learning and trying new things.

But for the first 38 years of my life, I have to admit there was one thing that I thought I’d never change my mind about: having kids.

The way I saw it was this: I love my life. I love my job. I love it so much that, in many ways, my job is my life. Why would I ever want to bring something (well, someone) into my life that would permanently change that?

Plus, it’s not like I haven’t been a part of birthing something: I’m a serial entrepreneur and executive consultant who’s helped hundreds of companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500s unlock new growth and possibilities. Here are just a few things I’ve helped conceive and bring to fruition:

✅ Raise seed round of funding (many times).
✅ Rebrand a company and help navigate the ride to IPO in less than two years
✅ Reposition a company to help them close $100M in new deals in less than a year
✅ Design a go-to-market (GTM) strategy and unique packaging that landed our client on shelves of Apple stores nationwide

That stuff felt easy to me. I was jazzed to do it and happily threw myself into the unknown on the daily. Early in my career, I was sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to a tropical location to speak in front of 400+ executives about growing their businesses. Even though I was significantly younger than 90% of the audience, I embraced this opportunity.

This is not to say that I didn’t have to grapple with Imposter Syndrome — I sure did. Then again, discomfort can be a great motivator. Seeing the bigger picture helped me push through then, and it still helps me move forward in business today.

This is probably the crux of why having a child wasn’t on my list of musts for a very long time. How can you see the bigger picture when you’re completely out of your comfort zone?

Frankly, the idea of becoming a father wasn’t just uncomfortable. It didn’t merely scare me. It actually terrified me.

Until it didn’t. The pandemic shifted things, and suddenly, everyone had a crash course diving into the unknown. And it helped both my wife and me see that something was missing in our lives. We’re both close to our own families, and we recognized that maybe the change we both feared was exactly what we needed.

So, this past summer, I became a dad for the first time. You’d think striking off on my own to create a consultancy and embrace the unknown would come in handy for finding my footing as a parent.

Actually, In my experience as a dad, six or so months in, not so much. In fact, it’s the other way around: becoming a parent has made me a far better founder.

And that’s because I’ve become more conscious of the assets and attributes necessary to guide growth, regardless of if it’s for a tiny human or a nascent business: Curiosity. Connection. Empathy. Attention. Flexibility. Focus. Patience. Grit. Vision. Resourcefulness. Servant Leadership.

For me, one big thing I’ve been really doubling down on is an abundance mindset. Instead of saying, “I can’t get that done in 10 minutes,” I ask myself what would it look like if I got that done in 10 minutes? Or what CAN I get done in 10 minutes?

Now I have good reason to get my work done so I can get on with the work of parenting. Notice I used the word “work” in both cases because it does take a huge amount of focus and commitment to set your baby up for success. So, let’s look at the intersection and see how we can nurture a greater understanding of everything it takes to foster the development of something precious.

Become a Lifelong LearnerAs a serial entrepreneur and recovering workaholic, I can’t help but draw parallels to work and parenting.

So here’s one: What I see in leaders that run disruptive organizations that leapfrog their competitors vs. leaders who are stuck in the sea of stagnation, is the ability to see and act upon the possibilities in things.

But like many of the stagnated views I get paid to help people overcome, I realize I was in a rut myself.

Initially, becoming a dad was what I suspected it would be. It felt like I was handing over all my aspirations and desires in exchange for a screaming, pooping, crazy baby.

Moreover, it confirmed what I’d heard my entire life about having a child: everything I had would be upended, and life as I knew it would slip out of my control.

Now, why did I have that impression? Because literally, everyone says the minute you get married or otherwise partner off: “When are you gonna have kids? Hurry up… and kiss your freedom goodbye! Sure, it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love, but…”

So many buts. And so much negative framing and projection! It reminded me of my entrepreneurial journey, which was met by many of the same objections. Why leave a cushy job to take the risk of striking out on your own?

“Don’t start an agency before working at a few,” I was told.

“Don’t do it that way — it’s always been done this way,” was another common refrain.

SO many don’ts and projections of peoples’ fears taking up space in my mind.

This thinking is the hallmark of a fixed mindset, which favors static over dynamic, status quo over evolution. Not my jam — professionally or personally.

How the hell can I truly live up to the things nowadays people say about me when I’m not in the room? Or the standards I hold for myself?

The humbling compliments I’ve received over the years become the high bars I continuously strive to scale:

“Visionary marketer.”

“Futurist that lives at the intersection of design and business.”

“Force multiplier.”

How can I think about the future and design it for businesses, brands, and people yet completely rule out the idea of doing it for myself?

Being a parent isn’t right for everyone, but it was definitely what I needed to see the world in a more positive and connected way.

The only way to become a forward-obsessed founder is to embrace a growth mindset. The same goes for parenthood. If you commit to accepting challenges, persisting through setbacks, making focused efforts, drawing inspiration from others, and staying open to learning, you’ll have an incredible experience — and impact.

When you lead with a PROactive mindset, your enthusiasm, passion, and excitement for all that’s new become a guiding force to embracing what comes next.

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The Power of Being Present

How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t verbalize? This is a question that goes not only for infants but also for customers who may not directly let you know what’s on their minds.

Here are the crucial elements of active listening parents can use with children, according to the CDC:

  • Give your full attention
  • Make eye contact and stop other things you are doing
  • Get down on your child’s level

The same advice goes for founders. Studies show that creating a safe environment, minimizing distractions, and consciously connecting are all part of what great listeners and leaders do.

And effective active listeners also pay close attention to nonverbal cues, which make up an estimated 80% of all communication. They look for visual cues, taking in the subtle sentiment and sensation being communicated nonverbally using all surrounding stimuli. I call this a vibe check.

It’s what I do when I hold my son and can tell he’s frustrated just by a little squirm and the cadence of his breath. And I do this as a founder, too, by listening to the market, my team, my customers, my communities. Being present and surveying all that’s being shown in subtle and nuanced ways is one of the best ways to make your brand a safe — and a desirable — destination.

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

Related to active listening are cultivating empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ). The way I see it, EQ is better than the world’s fastest supercomputer when it comes to unlocking layers of rich, raw, real insights.

And that’s not just my opinion: these so-called “soft” skills are actually a game-changer for anyone who seeks to nurture positive, lasting connections. In fact, seminal research from Harvard says emotional intelligence accounts for around 90% of what sets high-performers apart.

The ability to understand your own emotions as well as those of others isn’t necessarily so simple — especially for those of us who were raised to believe it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and pushing our own agenda ahead is what will help us “win.” That was a very “male” perspective I heard a lot growing up, and today, I have such a different viewpoint.

As a dad, I’m equally hands-on with my child as my wife is, and it’s helped evolve my vision of what masculinity is. To me, it means being compassionate, empathetic, and self-aware. And it’s also about being dialed into the needs and wants of another, being open to admit when you need help, and being willing to change.

In other words, it’s a humbling experience to become a parent — with great power comes great responsibility. Being a founder entails many of the same attributes, and this experience only sharpens all the ways emotional intelligence manifests. It means:

  • Being able to accept criticism in pursuit of growth
  • Moving on when you mess up and owning it
  • Setting boundaries and saying no when necessary (I’m still working on this one)
  • Openly sharing your emotions and feelings — let vulnerability be your jam
  • Looking for solutions that work best for everyone
  • Understanding your own motivations — and seeking to understand those of others
  • Being non-judgemental and kind (to yourself and others)
  • Leading with empathy and compassion
  • Listening and learning

I know that I show up at work nowadays much more present than ever before. It’s a more vulnerable stance, and, I’d argue, that is precisely why it makes me a better leader.

Patience and Persistence Unlock Progress

As forward-obsessed entrepreneurs and business professionals, it’s easy to want to hit the fast-forward button. We’re being re-wired daily to do it. Today’s platform experiences are the 2020s version of the McDonalds supersize button: “Just $1 dollar more for priority delivery.” “Watch the whole season now by grabbing this one-year subscription.” You get the picture: we are ruled by the harder/faster/more ethos of the instant economy.

But the beauty of raising a child is there is no fast-forward (OR PAUSE) button. And I think that is a good discipline I’m learning and applying to my life and work.

A quick note about patience — an attribute that seems like the antithesis of what serves an entrepreneur best. I know I always want to hit the gas pedal when starting a new business. But the need for speed can backfire, particularly in our culture of instant gratification.

Jeff Bezos, the gazillionaire founder of Amazon, has said that he only expects to make three good decisions a day. (Also, he said that “puttering around,” including making time in the morning to have breakfast with his kids, is a priority.)

While I aspire to bring more Jay Shetty monk-mind into business, each day being a parent is a masterclass in patience.

And that’s a key leadership skill as people, platforms, and businesses do not instantly just shift overnight. Behavior change, like other types of growth and development, takes time.

The law of gestation is something fathers and founders alike must learn to appreciate.

The Devil and Delight Are In the Details

Small things ARE big things.

Nowadays, the adage “think globally, act locally” is more applicable than ever before. Our digital world means we can literally do almost anything online and in the so-called Metaverses that are popping up faster than in a game of whack-a-mole.

Image Source: Bad Decisions Whack A Mole Gif by Two Door Cinema Club

But the truth is people want a personalized experience, and every touchpoint in the human experience matters.

And so, we’ve got to think small. Sweat the details — they matter. Celebrate small wins and incremental progress. To me, the little picture is the big picture, both as a founder and a parent. It’s an exercise in design thinking (and survival): if something doesn’t work, make a tweak. Don’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater (sorry, had to!).

How did becoming a parent change the way you lead? On the fence about fatherhood and need a positive perspective on the topic? Hit me up in the comments below.