How to be a Rockefeller in a world of Vanderbilts
Dear Parents and Guardians
At a recent School Disciplinary Subcommittee hearing, one of the Waikato Anglican College Trust Board representatives on the panel made a point that personally struck home to me; that the parents at the meeting could be considered as “victims” of their son’s conduct, given the impact that his decision making had had on them and their family.
Parenting in today’s society isn’t an easy option and certainly parenting teenagers is incredibly challenging. Parents in a St Paul’s context come in many forms; the traditional father and mother in the same home; those who solo parent with little input from the other party; those who exercise active shared custody and decision making and may even bring up their son/daughter in a new blended family; and an increasingly growing smaller group, who are grandparents who find themselves having to take responsibility for the upbringing of their grandson/daughter. Additionally, in 2019 many of us often find ourselves parenting, without extended family support.
Regretfully, there isn’t really a handbook or effective set of instructions about how to bring up children. We tend to learn on the job – at times by trial and error. Sometimes the errors that we make can have long-lasting consequences – if we are too soft and don’t provide effective guidelines, it often is difficult to pull things back on track. Probably the best approach is to hold the line and adopt the tougher, more cautious option in parenting. It seems easier to loosen the reins than to tighten them. In making our decisions, it is surprising how often we find ourselves using at times the same values, language and approach that our parents used with us – if that was effective, then it is useful, but if our upbringing was a little dysfunctional, it does not provide us with the effective platform that we require.
Parenting in 2019, as I’ve stated in previous Informer articles, is harder than it was in 2009; the powerful influence that social media has on our teenagers and the pace of digital change (i.e. we seem to no sooner master one form of technology like Facebook and a new form of communication such as Twitter or Instagram will have taken over as the medium used by youth); the instantaneous access to information, both right, wrong and corrupting (porn, substance abuse, access to information traditionally supplied probably reluctantly and clumsily by parents – such as sex education); the huge pressures on our children to conform to social norms that we probably don’t really fully understand; their need to respond promptly to messages or face potential social isolation; anxiety, stress and a lack of resilience in young people (unhappiness created by idealised depiction of other people’s lives; a “more is better” mentality when faced with the 3000 average advertising messages that we are exposed to each day (i.e. radio, television, internet, product placement). While our lives as a result of both partners increased involvement in the workplace are so much busier than for past generations. Work life has changed dramatically with many of us bringing work home regularly or working long extended hours - the lack of one designated go-to parent in a household. There is effectively a huge generation gap that exists between us and our children. Our teenagers are better able to use technology than we are. As a result, this has a significant impact on our ability to be an authority in their lives. As Dr Shimi Kang has stated, “In some respects, we are the most ‘outdated’ group of parents that have ever existed.”
Despite all of this, our teenagers need our guidance and our moral compass more than ever before.
Robert Glazer, Founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, recently wrote an excellent article on what should be a part of every parenting strategy:
A few weeks back, I wrote about the “Varsity Blues” scandal in which some very misguided parents were charged with “helping” their children get into elite universities through fraud and bribes.
Around that same time, I listened to an almost two-hour long podcast between Tim Ferris and Lebron James. When Ferris asked James about his parenting philosophy and his kids, one of whom is an aspiring basketball player, James said something that really stuck with me:
“I don’t want the best for my kids. I want the best out of them”
What a great piece of leadership advice – not only for parents but for anyone who leads. When you want something for someone, it really has more to do with you than them.
I’ve seen this more times than I can count on the sidelines of youth sports games. Parents who seem riddled with regret about not being a better athlete when they were younger, attempt to transfer their own lamentations to their child through overzealous “encouragement”.
Wanting the best out of someone is more about helping them tap into their innate desires and ambitions and encouraging them. It’s not about passing yours on to them.
Shortly after hearing Ferris and James’ podcast episode, someone shared an article with me written by Kobe Bryant (another Hall of Fame basketball player) titled, “A Letter to My Younger Self.” In his article, he distinguishes between investing and giving and explains why he’s such a strong advocate for the former:
“You will come to understand that you were taking care of them because it made YOU feel good, it made YOU happy to see them smiling and without a care in the world – and that was extremely selfish of you. While you were feeling satisfied with yourself, you were slowly eating away at their own dreams and ambitions. You were adding material things to their lives, but subtracting the most precious gifts of all: independence and growth.”
During my discussion with renowned wealth expert, Garrett Gunderson on the Elevate podcast, he detailed this exact scenario between two of the richest families in American history: the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers.
The Vanderbilt’s approach was to shower their children with money. In turn, they and their children spent it as fast as they received it on houses, cars and failed investments. As such, the family’s wealth was almost wiped out within a generation.
The Rockefellers, on the other hand, chose to teach their kids values and used their wealth to invest in their children rather than on material things. To this day, the Rockefeller fortune remands intact. Many of the Rockefeller heirs have gone on to hold very successful leadership roles and the family remains committed to allocating their vast resources to charitable causes, donating over $50M each year.
Leadership is not about what’s important to you or about making you feel better. It’s about the other person; their desires and dreams. And, perhaps most importantly, real leadership is about providing the support so that others can develop skills that will allow them to be independent, not dependent.
Think about your approach to leadership, be it as a parent or as a boss. Are you a Vanderbilt or a Rockefeller? A Giver or an Investor? Do you want the best for others or do you want the best out of others?
Quote of the Week
“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” Tom Peters
When we run a business, we operate using a strategic plan to define the direction we want to take the organisation in; when we are looking to buy a house or a new car, we normally prepare a budget to see if we have the finances to implement that decision; but in parenting, so many of us do things ‘on the run’. What is our plan when our kids try and play one parent off against the other – “but mum says ….?”; when they ask us if they can sleep over at a friend’s house as a 16-year-old?; if they can go to a party and take a couple of beers?: ask for a significant amount of money for a personal purchase?; have the use of a family car for a social event? What basically are the standard questions that we need to ask to be correctly informed?; to appropriately exercise the authority we should as parents to get the best out of our children? Personally, I would rather bring up my son and daughter as Rockefellers than Vanderbilts. If we are not to become collateral “victims” of our sons and daughters poor decisions, then as parents we need to have clarity and be confident in implementing a range of “bottom lines” in our journey to be effective parents.