Lessons in Leadership – from the dad of a new toddler.
By Rami Mallis
2021 was challenging for everyone. But like many parents across the country, being cooped up with children was both rewarding and mentally exhausting. There’s only so much of the Wiggles one can take.
As my cherubic son, Zayd, transitioned from easy-going infant to full blown turbo toddler in what felt like a matter of months, I had to dig deep to level up my fatherhood skills. Much like my internship in PR many, many years ago, this was exclusively “on the job” training.
Over the holidays, as I watched him race around displaying the full range of emotions in a matter of seconds, I reflected on how I’ve grown as a leader and a father over the last 12 months.
It struck me that many of the qualities I lean into in my role of father were forged during my time as a leader.
Similarly, what I’ve learned from a 17 month old with a penchant for remote controls and toothpaste tubes, has more application to my professional world than I would have expected.
So, here are 5 lessons in leadership, from a toddler – wrangling, new(ish) dad.
1. Be present.
I was once called out in 360 feedback for appearing distracted during 1-2-1 meetings and, since then, I’ve made a huge effort to shut out all external stimulation to be more present and undivided in my attention.
At home, I’ve caught myself scrolling while hanging out with my kid more times than I’d like to admit. I remind myself that that text, email or LinkedIn notification can wait: I don’t want to be ‘second screening’ during my son’s golden years and while his crayon scrawls are no Jackson Pollock, they show promise…and they too deserve my full attention.
2. Champion “Flearning*” > control
Throughout my career, the best leaders have been the ones that guide from a safe distance.
They motivate, are there as a sounding board but, ultimately, promote freedom, trust and responsibility.
My team appreciates being empowered to chart their own course – to figure it out and make mistakes along the way.
It’s a concept I fondly refer to as ‘Flearning’ or ‘*Fucking up while learning’. And while I don’t explicitly encourage the ‘fucking up’ part, I recognise it’s a crucial part of progress. If we don’t push ourselves to take risks and make (sometimes the wrong) judgement call, we’ll never advance.
The same goes for parenthood. Kids learn by screwing up along the way. Sure, they’ll pick up a few bruises as they launch off furniture like a possessed kangaroo but I’ll take fearlessness over too much hand holding any day.
Which is handy, because my son has the iron will of my wife and he’d defy me at every turn if I tried to micromanage him.
3. Don’t forget to look after yourself first
For anyone who isn’t familiar with ‘the great sleep regression’ it’s a relentless, highly charged period characterised by non-existent sleep.
In our household, they were dark days punctuated by snappiness, semi-permanent brain fog and severely impaired decision making.
As a leader, you’re relied on to be consistent, measured and have it together.
There’s a good reason they say ‘please place the mask first and then assist your child or other passengers’ on planes.
It’s an analogy that rings true to leadership and parenthood: if you’re out of oxygen, you’re no good to the people that rely on you.
4. Preserve curiosity
Childlike wonder is a magical thing. Innocuous objects take on a new, mystical meaning and can entertain for hours.
Stepping into a GM role has been packed full of new challenges…and a shed load more admin. It takes concerted effort to keep your eyes up on and make time to be inquisitive.
We’re lucky in our industry to be paid to be creative, to explore, and to have fun along the way. And curiosity is key to all of that.
5. Share the load
As the old adage says: “parenting takes a village” as that rings true for leading an agency.
Parenting can be bloody hard. But as a relay race, it’s much more manageable.
I’m fortunate to work alongside some amazing fellow leaders with a breadth of skills and qualities that take make us stronger than the sum of our parts.
Entrusting in colleagues and relinquishing control isn’t dissimilar from leaning on friends and family members. Sure, they may have their own methods of management (all the chocolate, maybe a dash of brandy) but the end result is almost certainly a more rich, and diverse experience for all involved.
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