3 Innovation Leadership Lessons From My Father
As we enter adulthood, most of us come to realize, and hopefully appreciate, how much our parents’ values shaped our lives. While I might have spent my earlier years denying how much their influence has had to do with my personal success, in the past decade or so, I’ve come to understand the investment of time, energy (and yelling) that my parents made in my formative years. How those values shape us in our youth, and even more so as we become adults, is remarkable.
Over the summer, I had the chance to spend a lot of time with my dad. It was under the unfortunate circumstances of his cancer diagnosis and declining health, but the moments we had together before he passed were often happy, reflective and informative.
<a href="https://digfstfwdstage.wpengine.com/high-performance-innovation-leader/">Influenced by one of my own mentors, Brendon Buchard</a>, I decided to use some of the time I had with my father to interview him; to hear his story and document the things that inspired, challenged, and educated him. As he spoke about the three values he felt were most critical towards helping him accomplish his goals, I could identify how each related to the innovation leadership that myself and my clients strive for. I’m happy to share these with you for the dual purpose of education and celebrating his memory.
<strong>The 3 Most Critical Values To Reach Your Goals</strong>
<li><strong>Work Ethic.</strong> It was no surprise to me that the first value my father credited for his own success was a strong work ethic. Just as my father insisted on having me by his side as he worked in the tire store he founded, his granddad Sid had him helping out on his farm in South Carolina. At the time, black people weren’t even supposed to have land, let alone own their own farm and grow and sell the food that the farm produced. You can imagine the hurdles a man like Sid had to overcome and the work ethic needed to succeed in those circumstances. As it applies to innovation leaders, the value of a strong work ethic is critical for leaning into the challenges we face while trying to get the daily work done and pushing through outcomes that are commonly not ideal or expected. When we talk about a “high performance mindset,” it begins with a strong work ethic.</li>
<li><strong>Follow Through.</strong> When my father opened his first store, he would go to other shops around Rochester mid-winter to pick up new and used tires to resell. He would drive his truck through the snow, then load 100s of tires in weather where the average high is in the low 30s. He shared that sometimes he'd get halfway through and consider putting off the work to another day. Just as quickly, he would remind himself, “If I don’t get this done now, the chances that I’ll do it tomorrow are zero.” As innovation leaders, we often come up with great ideas, but that is where the real work begins. Nurturing that idea from concept, through testing, development and deployment is where we provide value and refine our skills. It’s worth a moment of reflection to consider how we follow through on things in our day to day lives. Do we start off projects enthusiastically only to abandon them, or do we see a task all the way through, no matter what the outcome?</li>
<li><strong>Be True To Yourself.</strong> As a kid, there were many times where my dad seemed to be giving me so much direction and correction that it felt like he certainly was not looking for me to be myself. As an adult and a parent, I knew exactly what he was getting at here. Ultimately, we want our children to have an authenticity that comes from developing our own identity. In the innovation workspace, you’re going to have to step out of your normal role and maybe take a more creative approach than you’re used to. Some of the people I’ve coached have a hard time with this shift. “It just isn’t me,” is a common refrain, but the truth is, you should not change who you are. Being your authentic self within your innovation role is essential to succeeding. From Ideo founder Jim Kelly to Steve Jobs, our space is filled with people whose defining trait is being true to themselves. When it came to my father, he didn’t shy away from standing out, either. More than a few times, my dad would instruct me to stop by the local Wegmans grocery store after working a full day at his shop in the predominantly white neighborhood of Fairport. Appearing at the store, completely dirty and sooty after a full day working with tires, I was mystified why we so urgently needed some seemingly random grocery item at that moment. Over time, I absorbed the lesson–the dirt on my body wasn’t who I truly was, but it was an important part of who I was and a source of pride. Listening to my dad talk about authenticity a few days before he passed really struck a chord and had me reflecting on the lesson that he had hard coded into my psyche as a young man: finding yourself and being true to yourself can be harrowing, but it is essential if you want to be a leader who other people can relate to and support.</li>
As my father answered my questions and talked about the values that shaped him, it dawned on me that he may be the biggest innovator I’ve ever personally known. I’ve always joked that I’m a second generation entrepreneur, but in truth, I’m probably a third or even fourth generation entrepreneur; the inheritor of at least a century of determination and innovation. I’m proud to carry the burden of figuring out how to continue and improve upon the legacy my family has left me.
On your path as an innovation leader, I’d encourage you to see how you can embody these 3 values to arrive at the next level of your journey. I’d also recommend sitting down with your parents and grandparents to ask them <a href="https://brendon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/LifeInterviewQuestions.pdf">these thought provoking questions</a> originated by Brendon Buchard. What you learn can be inspiring and lead to a broader conversation that may help you understand them, and yourself, better.