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August 26, 2015

Leadership Lessons for My Newborn

Summary:

You're two weeks old, son. Let's start talking about leadership, about business, about people and about life.

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Bowen Thomas Swift was born on Wednesday, Aug. 12, at 6.45am. His buddies call him Bo. Weighing in at 6 pounds, 14 ounces, Bo is 20 inches long, has a normal-sized head (which, if you know either of his parents, was a huge relief) and like any baby is completely and utterly dependent on his parents. He is a blank canvas.

So, listen up, son. Here is some advice about how to be a leader, about how to work with people, about business and about life:

Lead with compassion. One of the greatest opportunities in life will be the opportunity to lead people. But remember, with this opportunity comes huge responsibility. The people you lead will look to you every single day for two things: direction and guidance. The words that you choose and the tone that you take will matter at all times. So what kind of leader will you be, Bo? Always, always, always remember to take the individual into consideration first. Serve others, and the world will reward you 10x. There will be times when you may question the actions and decisions of those around you. Always assume the best of people. Take the time to get to know people. Always be open to learning and the perspective of others. Slow down, ask questions and seek to understand. Always be compassionate.

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Live the vision, breathe the mission. Leadership can be defined as the ability to inspire others to achieve a shared objective. The two words that jump out for your dad are “inspire” and “shared.” People will go the extra mile when inspired to do so. But remember, son, they must understand the bigger picture and their individual roles in the mission to be really inspired. Then live the mission, Bo. Live every single moment of every single day. Be passionate. Life is too short.

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Be open, honest and constructive. Feedback is a gift. As a leader, you will have the responsibility to provide feedback. Good and not so good. Both are equally important to the recipient. But, Bo, you must earn the right to give feedback to people. If you don’t earn the respect of those around you, they won’t listen to you, buddy. Always be respectful. People don’t plan to mess up. They don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves: “Today I’m going to do everything I can to fail.” When the time is right, and you’ll know when, always be open, honest and constructive with feedback. Constructive, for me, is the most important word. Show peopl a path. Guide them down it.

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Make fast, high-quality, data-driven decisions. By the time you get the chance to lead people, the world will be moving way more quickly than it does today. And, son, it moves pretty damn quickly already. Don’t ever make decisions based on a gut feeling. Even when you are under pressure to make a quick decision. We live in a world of big data. You may have a gut feeling about a topic or, as your dad calls it, a hypothesis (thanks, Mike Derezin). But prove your hypothesis with data before you pull the trigger on anything. Business or personal. Slow down to speed up.

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Collaborate to win. The most successful people in the world are the ones who know how to collaborate. They are self-aware enough to know what they bring to the table. But they also take the time to understand the skills, ability, knowledge and experience of those around them. You will not succeed in life, Bo, if you try and go at it alone. And by the way, son, life is way more fun when you respect and work in partnership with those around you.

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Keep things simple. Right now, you eat, sleep and poop. As you get older, you’ll be pleased to know that you’ll have the opportunity to do more things. You will engage with people. People are interesting, but they can bring complexity to life if you let them. As their leader, you will have the job of listening to the complexity, deconstructing their challenges, helping them simplify, helping them get to the core of an issue or a challenge and then sending them on their way. And, please, don’t use 400 words when 10 well-chosen words will suffice. Keep things simple.

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Work hard, play hard. We all have to work, Bo. Life is expensive. But please pick something that makes you happy. Do something you are passionate about. Whatever you choose, remember to have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. I don’t, and it has served me well. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. You’ll work hard. You’re a Swift. But always strive for balance in your life. Work to live, don’t live to work. Be present for those around you. There will be so many distractions. Life will get hectic if you let it. And, son, remember to breathe.

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That’s a wrap, Bo. Thanks for listening.

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About the Author

Dan Swift has worked in London, Sydney and now New York with highly talented people at high growth, innovative companies including GE Capital, Complinet, Thomson Reuters, LinkedIn and now Sprinklr. Swift has unique insight into how forward thinking senior executives can leverage social media to lead more effectively in a rapidly changing digital world. Swift is an advisory board member for Insurance Thought Leadership and CEO/Founder of Empire Social Media.

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