Unsurprisingly, as a private equity and venture capital professional that is passionate about what I do, thoughts of work are pervasive regardless of whether I am at home or at the office. What better moment could there be to reflect on how parenthood has seeped into my professional world?
Being a parent has unquestionably changed the way I think, the way I work, and the way I think about work. But first, a disclaimer: as you read on, I want to be clear that in no way am I suggesting that working with companies is like working with children. What I am saying is that exposure to my children has made me better at interacting with companies.
Here are a few of the lessons that were on my mind this Father's Day.
Parenthood is not easy, and it’s helped me develop a keener sense of empathy for others who must manage personal challenges. This is especially poignant when I recognize that most executive team members are parents themselves, and likely worried about the same things I worry about as it relates to children – including dedicating the time to spend with them.
Acknowledging the importance of a family life outside the office provides a foundation of shared experiences and perspectives. Most people are dealing with multiple challenges, both at work and home. Understanding this as a business leader has reinforced my belief that in the world of software companies, our most valuable assets are the people that work for our companies.
As a parent, and as someone who lost my father three years ago, I've learned to appreciate being in the moment. None of us can know how much time we have to impact the world around us, and we should, both in our business and personal lives, celebrate moments with those close to us. As a father, this came into focus for me when I watched the Eagles win the Super Bowl this year with my son. While he did not quite grasp what was going on, it’s a memory we’ll both be able to appreciate that we shared when he’s older.
In the investment world, this could mean that if a member of your team lands a large account, take the time to recognize that achievement. If someone reaches a milestone with your company, be sure to celebrate it as a team. Appreciate all the small wins and joys. It is easy to focus only on the end goal; however, the big wins are usually the result of winning as a habit. There are winning moments happening every day in companies that are every bit as special as a sharing the victory of your favorite team or seeing a new place for the first time. I try to recognize and appreciate them all.
Things Take Time
Raising children is a good reminder that things take time. It would be unrealistic to have a goal that my four-year-old will be doing multiplication this time next quarter. Learning and grasping complex concepts takes time, given that most concepts need the foundational elements as prerequisites.
This standard should apply in business as well. While we always want to set aggressive expectations for our portfolio companies and those we work with, we should also be sensitive to path-dependencies that impact timing. If you establish unrealistic goals for your business and your team, or scale too quickly, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Some things require germination to take hold fully. We saw this recently as we scaled Pluralsight from a few dozen employees at the time of investment, to a few hundred at the time of IPO. It took time, but it was worth the reward. There’s nothing like raising a child to help you realize that some things just won’t happen overnight.
Companies have personalities
My two children are very different: one is a raging extrovert, and the other is an extreme introvert. Being a parent to both has reinforced how hard-wired some tendencies can be. Understanding how people interact with one another plays a critical role in consensus-building. In business, this has translated into increased awareness of things like group dynamics, compatibility, and coaching.
Each company has a personality and strategies that work well for one will not work for all. Appreciating the nuances of company differences is important to maintain an effective influence. It’s easy to group companies in buckets and make judgements based on established precedents. But as we’ve seen with the increase of mid-level software IPOs alongside some of the blockbuster tech companies, success comes in different sizes and can be achieved with unique paths.
There are also lessons to be gleaned from watching children and the norms they form from interpersonal dynamics and interpersonal relationships, which can be a major thrust behind investing. The value of understanding people, who they are, and how they engage with one another, cannot be overstated.
Parenting is a long journey
I believe my reflections on fatherhood have made me more effective at work, and in my interactions with senior executives. One thing is certain: parenting has taught me a lot and I’m learning every day. Since my oldest is only six years old, I am still a long way from parenting an adolescent.
I suspect this means my learning journey is just beginning, and much like a company’s trajectory, there will be a lot of evolution along the way. I look forward to continuing this odyssey and refining my leadership – both as a father and an investor.
Ryan Hinkle, Valley Voices, CONTRIBUTOR