My children are now 17 and 22 and during the majority of that time I was facing the challenges of growing a business. Yet they taught me many valuable lessons that helped me personally in that journey and in shaping the business a it grew to £55m in sales with over 1,000 employees.
1. It’s good to daydream
So often I was caught up in the issues of the working day, not switching off and going home still thinking about them. On arrival I would be greeted by my children who wanted me to play in their imaginary make believe world. Whether that was building lego structures or having a tea party for teddy bears, they wanted me to be part of it. It was absorbing, relaxing and fun, and the issues of the day completely faded away. When I did return to them, I often had a much clearer perspective on how to move forward. It taught me the importance of taking time out to daydream or to be totally immersed in something completely different.
2. Keep it simple
As my children got older I’d often share a business challenge with them, just to get their perspective on it. I remember one time when faced with dealing with a team member’s unacceptable behaviour at work, I explained the situation to my children. They looked at me surprised that I was even taking the time to go through various options. They simply said, do what you say to us, you’re disappointed, you should know better by now, if it happens again your pocket money will be stopped, it begged the question, why was I over analysing it? Keeping it simple is best.
3. Add value
I had a delicate client negotiation, a large contract which I couldn’t afford to lose. The client wanted a substantial rate reduction. I was discussing my approach with my husband, unaware that my daughter was listening, when she pipped up and said, “I can’t see what your problem is mum, you always say you get what you pay for. So you’ve obviously not done a good job explaining the value of your service, otherwise you wouldn’t be in this situation!” Lesson number three, always focus on the value you provide.
4. The importance of giving and encouraging honest feedback
Whilst waiting to be served at a popular restaurant with my daughter, two waitresses were chatting to each other as if we didn’t exist. I complained to my daughter that this was poor customer service and that I wouldn’t want to eat here again. She asked if I was going to complain to the manager and I said no, it wasn’t worth it. “Really,” she replied, “that’s not very good, you always say you learn from your mistakes, but now you’re not giving them the opportunity to do that and secondly you’d want to know if a customer wasn’t happy with your service wouldn’t you?”
Here were two lessons for me, firstly be consistent in your beliefs in and out of work. Secondly the importance of giving feedback, it’s a great opportunity to learn. If someone has taken the time to give you some good feedback, thank them and learn from it. Also make it part of your routine to ask for feedback as it’s invaluable. It helped me to shape a culture where giving honest helpful feedback was expected. And yes, I did thank my daughter for her feedback!
5. Care and trust are important for performance
As a parent I have to admit (please don’t judge me on this) that I left it too long before we moved our son to a new school. It wasn’t until he asked to be moved that I took the issue of unfair teacher behaviour towards him seriously. I learnt that you need to get to the bottom of the underlying reason why performance might be below par quickly. Maybe an unresolved work issue or a personal situation is impacting performance. It taught me to be more considerate of others and if you’re leading a team you need to care about their welfare. Building trust is important, so they are happy to share and discuss problems with you, as the sooner you know the quicker you can resolve it and performance improves.
There is no better personal development than growing a business, it teaches you so much. Combine that with lessons from your children and it becomes an even more potent experience.