Lessons from Growing Up in a Big Family
When I tell people I grew up as the third oldest of nine children, there are a few typical responses that include something along the lines of… “oh my, that must have been interesting.” You know what – it was! Every day brought interesting challenges, exciting adventures and chaos. With four brothers and four sisters, there was never a dull moment in our house. This big, loud, crazy family taught me more about leadership, determination and the ability to embrace personal uniqueness than any classroom, text book or TED talk could – it is the lessons I learned from my family that have shaped my personal and professional growth.
Here are some of the lessons I learned and use in my work every day.
Work as a team
I’m sure we have all heard the phrase “teamwork makes the dream work” in our professional careers. No place is this more evident than in a house full of kids. Whether it was laundry, dishes, dusting or vacuuming – we had to find a way to work together effectively to get the job done. If not, we would have been walking around in dirty clothes and eating off the floor! Working well in a team is a critical skill for any role or function in today’s digital world. Think about how projects are managed, products developed and released, customers supported and marketing campaigns executed. It takes the ability to compromise, share and communicate to overcome obstacles, reach milestones and achieve your goals. You must be able to cast aside difference of opinion, of strategies and of perspectives to figure out a way to make the “dream work.” Teamwork is essential to success.
Listen and speak up
Communication is hard – even as a seasoned professional. As a kid, in a house with eleven people, communication was essential. Each of us had our own priorities and wanted to make our opinions and needs known. I learned very quickly that being the loudest didn’t necessarily mean that I would be heard. And talking over each other just created confusion and caused frustration. Instead, I found that it was most effective when I listened carefully to conversations, observed the behavior of others, then say what I had to say at the right time in the right place. It took navigating complex family situations to understand the best time, place and manner in which in communicate. This translates to work environments. To drive successful digital transformation, it’s critical to voice thoughts and ideas to help companies navigate change, attain desired outcomes and realize value, but being the loudest at the table or on the call isn’t the way to achieve success. True communication happens when you are able to define your voice and articulate your ideas in the right way so people listen and learn from you.
Focus in the midst of chaos
In our house, homework was done in a common area like the kitchen or dining room. I would sit at the table with my books while siblings were coming and going, talking, eating, laughing or crying. This forced me to learn how to concentrate, block out the “noise” and focus, at a very young age. This skill has proven quite valuable as there are always distractions and interruptions at work. Picture a typical day filled with texts, calls, emails that draw attention away from projects that require critical thinking or strategic planning. Having maniacal focus on what matters most – your key priorities – is the best way to prevent diversions from interfering with progress.
Build a network
Being in a big family has a unique way of highlighting the important things in life. Birthdays, holidays, achievements, celebrations big and small – when we get together it’s always special. To us, it’s natural to address controversial topics and challenge one another. Nothing is off limits and it is as important to disagree as it is to agree. Yes, we chat about sports, weather and our daily lives, but we always get to the “big stuff” and share in each other’s joys and sorrows. Sometimes, in our professional lives, we can let little things cloud our judgment and get in the way of tackling the most critical issues. I’ve learned that having a network of colleagues to challenge, or support my thinking is the best way to identify, value and address what’s most essential. Building a foundation of people I trust, in both my personal and professional life, helps me stay grounded in what is really important.
Nine bright minds are better than one. I found that my ideas were always made better by the input of my sisters and brothers. (It was crowdsourcing before the concept came in vogue and went digital!) I loved hearing their different opinions and suggestions. I would take it all in – consider all the various points of view – before making important decisions. Sometimes I agreed and sometimes I didn’t but I always listened. And many of my plans were influenced and improved by my siblings’ feedback. As I got older, I realized how much I truly value diversity of thought in teams. Studies have shown that diverse companies perform better. People bring different cultures, backgrounds, experiences and personalities to work and those differences can inspire creativity and drive innovation. By leveraging the different viewpoints and opinions of employees, organizations can not only be inclusive but truly innovative.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from childhood is to recognize that sometimes just living affords you the best learning opportunities in the world. If you can see and embrace the lessons in each and every day, I believe we all can be better leaders. I’d like to think I will thank each of my brothers and sisters for the lessons they have taught me….but we are still siblings, and I can’t give them too much credit!
I look forward to continuing the conversation next week at SAP Ariba Live Las Vegas where I will be hosting the Diversity & Leadership Lunch: Surfacing Unconscious Bias.