3 Leadership Lessons From my 16-Year-Old Hipster

05/26/2015 04:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2016


To him I may be a dork, who doesn't know how to dress, but I am his dad and I count myself very lucky to have a 16 year old son who lets me, hug, love and teach him. Those moments may have to be a little more clandestine than in the past, so as not to risk the appearance of being uncool. Yet I receive with such joy the simple statement, especially when said in front of a gaggle of other teenagers, "love you dad". That to me is the epitome of cool!

Learning is a 360-degree process. Our best lessons come often from those with the least amount of life experiences. Maybe that is due to their eyes not yet being clouded by cynicism, which can occlude one's ability to see the truth and find the answers we are seeking. I have learned a lot from my son and I am very proud of him, something I try to share often. Yet in a house where the lifeblood is sarcasm and humor, my praise is often veiled in that dressing. So, I thought I would share with him and all of you some of the lessons he has taught me.

Our best lessons come often from those with the least amount of life experiences. Maybe that is due to their eyes not yet being clouded by cynicism, which can occlude one's ability to see the truth and find the answers we are seeking.

Envision the future, know your desired outcome and take action. When I was 16 all I wanted was a girlfriend, a car and tickets to the Flock of Seagulls concert. My son, he wants to be an attorney and has said so for a couple of years. His teaching is in the fact that he did not allow his desire to be simply talk. He took action to get himself closer to his goal. He has chosen to push himself academically; he participated in the Mock Trial team, and joined Future Business Leaders of America. He even asked my wife and me to buy him a couple of suits, which he is all too happy to wear. Something he definitely did not get from his dad. He knows where he wants to be, he understands what it will look like when he gets there and he is taking the needed steps to get there now; a pretty good lesson for all business leaders.

Drive in stride. My son is driven, as are his older sisters, mom and dad. I guess it is a family trait. Yet where he separates himself is in his ability to face the pressure that emanates from being driven with a sense of calm and stability. I, on the other hand, have the proclivity of a worrier. Left unchecked, I can chew up time and energy in rumination and produce far too much internal stress. He somehow naturally absorbs it, understands it is transitory, and that life continues regardless. He is able to juggle school and extracurricular activities and still find the time to be a16 year-old that plays X-Box and hangs out with friends. He does it all with grace and in the absence of worry and anxiety, he is able accomplish so much in such short periods of time. I am not sure if that is because he understands that these demands are impermanent, and therefore, grasps the foolishness in his getting lost in worry or, if he is just oblivious. Nevertheless, it is a great reminder of how we would all benefit from letting go of the worry and just focusing on the task at hand.
Embrace embarrassment. We were talking about this before he left for a friend's birthday party. We discussed the fact that there would be dancing at this party and that he is always the one willing to get out on the floor first and make a fool of himself. Once he did that, it was as if it gave permission to the others to do the same. This is a lesson on the benefit of vulnerability. Leaders who show vulnerability, which is different from weakness, empower their teams. It communicates that to try and fail, to feel silly, or to be out of one's comfort zone is okay. That to feel exposed and to place your self-identity at risk in order to grow should be applauded not feared. We are often trapped by the sense of self we feel we must portray and therefore, suppress our true self from fully manifesting. So it is good to find yourself a little embarrassed, it signals that you are pushing past what makes you comfortable.

I am grateful for the wise and somewhat oblivious teacher I find in my son. Now if he only learned to clean his room, not eat us out of house and home, leaving a debris field in his wake, and ditch some of the teenage drama, all would be great. The most important learning is that we should all be aware that lessons can appear from the most unlikely of sources, colleagues, employees, friends, neighbors and even 16-year-old hipsters. The key is to seek knowledge and remain open, receptive and inquisitive. One source for me is in my work to help businesses and business leaders grow. In doing so, I find myself growing as well. The teacher becomes the student and the student the teacher. Learning is cool, just ask my son. I would welcome your comments. I would be interested to know in what unexpected places you have found wisdom and knowledge.

Thanks for reading.

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