I probably could have posted this on Father's Day, but after the events I experienced this week, it's really good to see it in context. I continue to believe that being a father is a very difficult situation to be in sometimes. The other day, after being challenged by my daughter Caroline’s afternoon (and evening) at the ER, I was dealing with that and put the other two out on the deck to play. We have a large kiddie pool, since I don’t have the time, money, or patience to deal with a real pool. At one point, I noticed my oldest daughter Emma walking around with one of two Blackberry phones that were on our kitchen counter. These were phones previously used by my wife's company, and she wanted me to extract the data from them, especially pictures she had on one of them. Seeing this, I told Emma that they weren’t toys and to put them back, but being a little distracted dealing with Caroline, didn’t follow up on things.
Later that evening, while tucking the girls into bed, my wife found the second of the two Blackberries in my youngest daughter Honora’s bed. The screen was waterlogged and upon opening the battery door, it was full of water. In short order we found the other Blackberry similarly waterlogged. The good news is that the children are still alive. Hopefully we are not out $750 worth of phones and a whole bunch of important work pictures. The phones will be sitting in rice for a few days and the culprits sitting in room restriction for a few days as well.
All children get into mischief and I weigh the situation against the likelihood that it wasn’t intentional and maybe someday soon we will laugh about it. But the issue is that a certain amount of discipline must be leveraged to provide an effective and memorable lesson. The discipline must be appropriate for the situation, and of course, past infractions have to be counted. They haven’t been very cooperative lately, so this really upped the ante. And while a spank on the rear might handle a quick tantrum or something like that, punishment for an event like this must deliver a life message and spanking won't cut it. So room restriction it is, and while they are there, we want the rooms spotless.
But as a parent, in this case, the effort is difficult. My wife is going out of town for the weekend and I had some fun things I wanted to do with the girls. I could easily change the discipline but what message would that send? I want badly to go into their rooms and hug them and tell them that there’s a good chance I can resurrect the data, but after having specifically telling them the phones were off-limits, they disobeyed the order and everything ISN’T just okay. Smiling and making nicey-nice is not going to help things any, except in the immediate moment. Failing to listen to an order must bear repercussions.
People often remark about how good our children are and we take a lot of pride in that. But they see the result of lots of second-guessing, mistakes and heartbreak, because that’s what being a parent is like if you are doing your job. You struggle between doing what’s best to positively reinforce good behavior and what’s best to discourage bad behavior. And bad behavior, regardless of fun plans and the desire to kiss and make up, must have consequences. To not have consequences invites repeated poor performance.
Honestly, I have it easier than some people have it, because my kids are pretty good. But it’s a continual cycle; they are good, and they make it easier to provide positive experiences. When they are bad, we struggle with wanting to continue to be affectionate and supportive, even though we know that to act like everything is okay would not send the right message.
Caring leaders endure the same exact experiences. If you choose, re-read what I just wrote and insert “leader” in the context every time you see “dad”. As a command officer, I make decisions that on occasion, must be followed regardless of what those who are recieving end want to do, or feel like doing. They may even want to question my decision. In this case, there must be repercussions to disobeying a direct order.
Making discipline mean something is required to elevate the attention level of the subject. Some people can be reached with something as simple as a look. Some require the equivalent of a 2×4 across the head. And enforcing discipline hurts for us sometimes as well because those decisions are based on experience and understanding of a particular situation, but those decisions are contrary to the desires of the "children". Sometimes, despite insisting that what we say is right, our children disobey us, and discipline is invoked, in order to reinforce a message. Likewise with our subordinates.
I try to support positive behavior through positive reinforcement. And when I have to administer discipline, I struggle with doing so, because, as a good leader, I probably care more than I should. But I also know that I am fortunate to have good people who, given the chance, will make good decisions, and I like to think that is a continual cycle.
Consider this when you lead. You are responsible for the welfare of the people who you supervise. If you are the designated leader, you have to be proactive, and provide opportunities for success. But when things don’t go right, it is not time to be everyone’s best friend. It is time to do what is right and that involves, more often than not, making hard decisions that benefit all involved. As I say often to my children, "I am not your friend, I am your father. If we get along we can be friends, but I am your father first." Feel free to insert "boss" in lieu of "father" in that statement as well.
My children will survive this event and live to tell about it, as will we. But hopefully we will now have further understanding as to what is expected and the consequences of failure. And in the same respect, when you have that moment with your charges, they should too.