4 Business and Leadership Lessons My Parents Taught Me

Some of the greatest lessons our parents teach us aren’t delivered as family-friendly sitcom monologues, with a sentimental soundtrack playing in the background.

Instead, they often come in more mundane moments, as we watch their lives unfold everyday. My biological parents divorced when I was five years old, and discovered new mates early, so I have been lucky enough to learn from four parents.

Two of my parents worked as entrepreneurs. The other two worked for other companies. All four shaped my thinking about my career and life.

In the season of Mother’s and Father’s Days, here are four things that I have learned from my parents.

1. Follow the golden rule.

My father works as a fundraising consultant, helping non-profits sustain and grow their operations. He deals with folks from all walks of life. Regardless of their background or position, he always treats people well. He showed me that from the boardroom to the farmhouse, it is dangerous to make snap judgements about people.

Working in executive recruiting, I’ve found this to be helpful. Slowing down long enough to understand a candidate’s (or new client’s) background—where they come from, how they grew up—gives you insight into how they think, approach negotiations, manage conflict and demonstrate leadership. All of these are important factors at this level of recruiting.

2. Believe, and passion will follow. 

For the last 10 years, my mother has sold a product called JuicePlus+, a flash-frozen, fruit-and-vegetable whole-food product. She genuinely believes it’s the best product of its kind on the market (it helps that there is a lot of research to back that up). Because she believes in it, she’s passionate about selling the product. I believe that it is that burning passion (and some meaningful goal setting) that makes her phenomenally successful.

As I was leaving graduate school with my new diploma, I was struggling to think about the next phase of my career.  As I looked around at opportunities within consulting, or business development roles, it occurred to me that I still loved recruiting. It was something that I was excited about. So I entered my next phase of my recruiting career by joining a retained executive search firm. This is my sixth year at Lantern Partners, and the excitement hasn’t waned. We have worked to innovate in the recruiting industry with our proprietary testing tools and leadership assessment. It would be difficult to go the extra mile without passion. It is the passion that drives the motivation.

3. Persistence and loyalty pay off.

My stepmother didn’t start her career with a college degree. Instead, she began as a part-time cashier at a Hallmark store, putting herself through school. She became a store manager and, later, a branch manager.  Eventually, she became an accountant and CPA, and then even a CFO. By the end of her tenure—and after decades of persistence and loyalty to one company—she became the CEO of a 20-store chain of Hallmark stores. Observing her persistence and loyalty instilled in me an appreciation for those two qualities.

She was right … persistence usually does pay off. As I enter my sixth year with the firm, having endured a roller-coaster economy, we have built a fantastic environment. It is one of which I am   proud. The key is understanding that life (and careers) are roller-coasters. While it might seem easier to get off the ride at a low point, the rewards might come with the next peak.

4.  Be the best at what you do. 

My stepfather specialized in materials management and purchasing at a hospital. While any service partner HATES to have to deal with purchasing, they play an important role for any organization. His role was to lower costs and improve profitability for hospitals.

One day, I remember him winning a national award for his excellent work. I don’t know what wins you a national award in hospital material management. But I do know what he told me after he won. “It doesn’t matter what you do—whether you’re a painter, or an engineer, or you’re a purchasing agent for a hospital,” he said. “If you’re the best at what you do, people will seek you out and you’ll be successful.”

I’m lucky; many people don’t have one role-model in their lives. My four parents each turned out to be a role model for me. I just need to think about what they have shown me on a daily basis.