Talk to any entrepreneur or business leader and they’ll often admit that their company is their "baby." They brought it to life, spent time raising it, and are emotionally invested in its growth. Entrepreneurs who are also parents to real babies say that many of the skills they use at home have enhanced their workplace.
Katherine Hays is cofounder of Massive Inc., an in-game advertising company she sold to Microsoft in 2006. Five years ago, she became a mom, and she says becoming a parent has helped her grow her latest venture, mobile-marketing tech company Vivoom Inc., launched in 2014.
"Kids look at everything with fresh eyes; everything is a first," she says. "If you watch children, their observations and conclusions are usually specific, accurate, and unexpected. I aim to bring this to Vivoom every day. How do we look at every opportunity with fresh eyes? And then how do we take those observations and build on what we already know?"
Being a parent also improves your leadership abilities, says Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother Media. "It forces you to be more efficient with your time and effort, which then leads to more strategic thinking as you try to get everything done," she says. "I also think it can help foster more empathy at work for the work-life challenges we all face."
Owens and Hays say the skills they use as parents have benefited them in their careers. Here are five ways being a parent helps you at work:
Finding missing papers, coordinating orthodontist appointments, and finding a bathroom for a potty-training toddler—parents are always solving problems. "As a parent you become trained to constantly think about solutions," says Owens. "And often your family has to work as a team to get things done."
Helping kids solve problems through trial and error can also be helpful at work. "Our role as parents is to set up an environment where the cost of the error is never too great, and is far outweighed by the understanding gained by the iterative process," says Hays. "It’s the same in business. Our job is to set up countless mini trial and error situations so that we quickly come to the right answer and really understand the root of the problem we’ve just solved, while never taking on significant risk."
When you’re a parent, you become focused on the big picture of what needs to get done and who is doing it, says Owens. "When you’re going somewhere with the kids, you have to think ahead about all of the things that could happen," she says. "You need to visualize the entire project, conceptualizing the business of family."
This skill is useful at work. "Challenges might hit a project, and you become attuned to thinking ahead," says Owens. "Parents bring strong focus to project management."
Team management and motivation is a skill that transfers from home to the workplace, says Owens. "Having a my-way-or-the-highway attitude doesn’t always work—at home or at work," she says. "You need to get people on board sometimes. Other times, you don’t need their buy-in. It’s about telling the difference and knowing what to do when those moments arise."
Having an individualized approach is also helpful. "You don’t treat your partner the same way you treat your children, and the same should be true for personalities in the workplace," says Owens.
Having three young kids has taught Hays to be fully present in whatever she’s doing. "Kids force you to be in the moment when you are with them, and it's a fantastic habit and one that you can model and support in your team," she says, adding that it increases productivity, creativity, and your connection with the context around you.
Being in the moment is important in a fast-growing business. "We could not innovate at the rate needed and solve all that we need to solve without complete presence and focus on one thing at a time," she says.
Getting tweens and teens to open up takes prompts, and when they do start talking, parents need to be quiet and listen. "With children, listening goes deep; the minute my 12-year-old opens up, I actively listen and prompt her with open-ended questions," says Owens.
At work, the ability to listen helps you better understand what employees need to succeed, as well as identify when they’re having an "adult temper tantrum," she says. "Sometimes people need to vent. After they get it out, you’re able to guide them and offer other points of view, much like a child who had a bad day with a teacher."