I grew up in Chelmsford, Ontario. It’s a small village just outside of Sudbury. My father was a mechanic, and later, a shop foreman. My mother was an elementary school teacher. We lived on an isolated road, with a forest in our backyard. It was a fairly simple life. Since they both worked for government institutions that offered pensions, both of my parents chose to retire early, at age 50.
My Dad was a tradesman who grew up on a farm. And now that he’s retired, he’s less and less interested in anything work-related. But, he taught me a great deal about how to do business. See, there are a great number of things that we fail to teach people in MBA programs. We don’t teach them how to cultivate their gut instincts, how to pick the right people for the job, how to actually bring people together. MBAs are largely about the stuff that’s on paper vs. the stuff that’s not tangible.
My Dad is a very fair man. He taught us that you treat people the way you’d want to be treated. I know for a fact that I learned this from him. There’s no reason to treat someone poorly unless they’ve given you a reason to treat them differently. My Dad never cared about someone’s looks, their abilities, their race or religion. He cared about whether or not someone could get the job done.
My Dad’s also the type of person who sets high expectations. In other words, don’t bother doing something unless you plan on doing it right. Sure, he believes in learning, and testing, and trying new things out. But, if you say you’re going to deliver something, you better get it done on time. It’s funny because I think that being dependable is a trait that is hard to find these days.
Outside of “do it on time, and do it well”, my father also taught me to be skeptical. “Don’t trust those guys too much.” And by ‘those guys’, he meant big companies. He meant my bosses. He meant anyone that had something to gain and little to give. There’s a natural skepticism that comes with living in rural environments. And trust me, I grew up with a very healthy dose of “don’t believe everything you hear!”.
In a way, being skeptical of suits and ties has helped me a lot along the way. It ensured that I wouldn’t become a ‘yes’ man at work, and that I wouldn’t fall prey to scumbags trying to get me to work for free.
Being playful isn’t really synonymous with business life, but it should be. I grew up in a pretty playful house, where it wasn’t unusual for my Mom to play pranks on people, and for my Dad to break into dance, just ‘cause. I learned not to take life too seriously. Sure, it’s great to get things done, but that’s worth nothing if it means you don’t have any room left in the day to be playful, to go explore in nature, or to learn a new skill for fun.
Actually, now that I think about it, my Dad really taught me to balance out my life. On the business front, it’s forced me to reel in the desire to work all the time, and to make room for personal growth. If you grow your personal interests, you’ll also grow professionally. Nobody wants to work with someone who takes their job TOO seriously.
There’s a lot of stuff that I had to learn on my own in life. Nothing was ever handed to me (and trust me, the role my mother played was in making sure that I’d develop a sense of initiative all on my own!). The point is, the stuff you learn from your parents might actually be more useful to you than the stuff you learn in business textbooks. In my case, my Dad taught me to be honest. Some people might think that’ll work against me in the business world. I like to think it’s a beautiful asset that’ll make business life a lot more enjoyable.