In this article I will be covering what I believe are the five most important leadership qualities of a good father.
What is your definition of a leader? Maybe you think of someone who is in charge or in control?
My definition would go something like this:
Leader (noun): someone who is in a position to influence or motivate others.
If you think of it like that, whether we consider ourselves a natural leader or not, from the day we become parents, all mothers and all fathers are leaders.
The importance of the mother child relationship has long been recognized but there is a growing body of evidence about the important role of fathers. A study conducted in 2016 by the Michigan State University used data from about 730 families across America to conduct research into the effects parents stress and mental health problems such as depression had on their children. The study found that fathers relationships with their children play a surprisingly large role in their children’s health and development. This was particularly evident from toddlers through to fifth grade.
I have been in a number of professional roles where I have had to lead teams of people. So leadership is something I have studied and developed in my professional career. When I think of the qualities that make a great leader, there are five in particular that I believe are most important:
- A leader is visionary – They can see beyond the here and now and clearly describe what that future looks like.
- A leader is courageous – Nothing is certain in life and so in order to grow and be successful, a leader needs to take reasonable risks.
- A leader is respectful – You cannot influence and motivate people effectively without having their respect. To gain the respect of others a leader must be respectful and have empathy for the people they lead.
- A leader is humble – Great leaders make it their goal to help others succeed, not the other way around. They do this by serving the people they are leading.
- A leader has integrity – A leader has a clear set of values that are respected by those they are leading. For the leader to have integrity they must consistently live out those values.
While there are other important leadership qualities, I believe if you are doing well in these, you are likely to be doing well in the others too. Read on as I describe how each of these qualities can be applied to our role as fathers.
1. Leadership quality of a good father – Visionary
Children are discovering what they like and what they are good at. As they try new things their success or failure can shape how they see themselves and who they ultimately become.
Parents need to see the potential in their child and be their child’s greatest supporter.
While people can be successful in things they are not naturally good at or don’t particularly enjoy, typically it is best to align your goals to your strengths and interests. We should encourage our children to do the same by taking the following steps:
- Get your children involved in as many different things as possible to help them discover what they enjoy and what they are good at.
- Recognise the natural strengths, gifts and talents your child has. Remind your child of these regularly.
- Encourage your child to focus on the things they enjoy and ideally what they have a natural talent for. Give them opportunities to develop their abilities.
- Regularly encourage your child in your belief that they can achieve their goals. Your faith in them will help them have faith in themselves.
2. Leadership quality of a good father – Courage
As a leader, your behaviour and decisions are visible to the people you lead. For a father the decisions you make will be an example or pattern that your children will follow.
As we know there are times when we are faced with decisions that involve risk. When faced with these decisions, it is important as a father to demonstrate courage.
Let’s look at a practical example. Imagine your daughter is having a birthday and she wants it to be a dress up party. She also has a particular idea for what she wants her dad to dress up as – her favourite story character “The Cat in the Hat!” You imagine the looks on the other parent’s faces as they arrive at the party to see you dressed up as a Dr Seuss character and the embarrassment you know you are going to feel.
In this situation, it is okay to let your daughter know that you may feel embarrassed in front of the other parents dressing up as the Cat in the Hat… but then tell her you’re happy to do it because it’s important to her and you love her. Pick up that red and white striped hat and wear it with pride!
Watching her Dad overcome his fears is a powerful way of teaching your daughter not to worry about what people think. Feel the fear and do it anyway!
3. Leadership quality of a good father – Respect
When it comes to respect, the phrase “you get what you give” holds very true. You cannot expect to have the respect of your children if you don’t treat them with respect. You cannot expect them to be respectful to others if they see you acting disrespectfully.
As a father, how you treat your child’s mother is so critical for their understanding of respectful relationships.
If your son sees you treating his mother disrespectfully, it sets an example he is likely to follow later in life.
If your daughter sees you disrespecting her mother, it sets an example of how she may expect to be treated later in life. She will be more likely to tolerate disrespectful or even abusive behaviour from a future partner. This is not something a father would ever want for their little girl.
I realise there are situations in life where it is very difficult to be respectful. You may be separated or divorced and feeling deeply hurt by your ex partner. They may have said or done things that have made you lose all respect for them. You may have people in your world that make decisions you can never respect or condone. In these situations remember behaving respectfully is very different to having respect, e.g you may not respect your daughter’s boyfriend but you can still behave respectfully towards him.
Always take the high road in the way you treat other people, even if they don’t deserve it. Do it for your kids. It will lay a solid foundation in your children’s character. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “Men are respectable only as they respect”.
4. Leadership quality of a good father – Humility
When we talk about humility in parenting, we are talking about putting the needs of your children ahead of your own.
In practice, this means a number of things for fathers.
Firstly, considering the needs of your family above your own. I have personally found this challenging and did not realise how selfish I was until I had children. Simple things, like not being able to exercise when I wanted to. Having to squeeze a run into times that worked for my wife and kids. Not being able to buy the latest gadget when I wanted to. Having to consider the families budget and financial goals. It can be challenging to put our families needs ahead of our own. I consider myself a work in progress on this one and I’m sure my wife would agree!
Secondly, humility in parenting can be loving and setting boundaries with your children even when they won’t thank you for it. Screen time has been a big challenge in our household. My wife and I knew our kids were getting too much screen time a year ago but we dreaded the backlash we knew we would get by enforcing tougher limits. We made the decision to put our kids needs first rather than our need for peace in our family and enforced the limits we felt were necessary. This involved screen free days and parental controls on devices. There was a lot of complaining (and door slamming) initially, but with time the kids have come to accept the changes.
Sometimes humility in parenting is acknowledging when we have done the wrong thing and apologising. It can be very powerful for a young child or a teenager to hear their father apologise and know that he is truly sorry for something he has done. It might be something as simple as yelling at the kids when you are tired or running late from work and missing the ball game. Get down on your knees, make eye contact with your child and say “I’m sorry”. It’s a powerful way to lead by example.
5. Leadership quality of a good father – Integrity
Strong leaders live out their values to inspire the people they lead. Organisational psychologists tell us if you want to set a certain culture in your organisation you need to lead by example. What you do as a leader has far more impact than what you say.
As a father, if you want your children to live out the family values, you need to have integrity and live them out yourself. If you want your kids to say please and thank you, say it yourself. If you want your kids to have less screen time, have less yourself.
Our children are watching our behaviour far more than we realise. When I slip up and do something that does not align to our family values, it surprises me how quickly the kids notice and chastise me for it! That is when I need the humility quality to kick in and get down on my knees to apologise…
The standard is high but be kind to yourself
Now that you have read how leadership qualities relate to your role as a father, you may be thinking “man… that standard is too high to live up to!”. The truth is, it is too high a standard for all fathers to live up to all the time. We all make mistakes and these are qualities that develop over time.
As I mentioned, when I fall short I apologise to my family. I don’t let the slip up discourage me. Instead I forgive myself and keep trying to do the best I can.
This brings me to the bonus quality – Persistence!
No matter how difficult the circumstances, a good father never gives up, especially on his kids.
I realise sometimes parenting is extremely difficult. The challenges may feel overwhelming. But if you hang in there and keep doing your best, you are being a good father to your kids… in the way that only you can.