Big lessons from the little ones

Culture
17 June, 2019

Dads share the biggest lessons they’ve learned from their kids

Inspiration comes to us in different ways. We can be inspired by leaders or mentors. We can read a book or watch a film and be inspired.

Sometimes, the best inspiration can be the little ones. Children. Their sense of simplicity, courage and confidence are things we sometimes tend to forget as adults.

I am delighted to share this curated #FathersDaySpecial post where 10 of our leaders share some wonderful stories about how their children have taught them valuable lessons.

Chukwuemeka Okeke – Head of Sales, Godrej Nigeria 

What motivates?

“My daughter, Somto, is 9 years old and in Grade 4. She has a very strong personality and her dedication to what she does, is amazing and a huge source of inspiration for me.

Her school organises an awards ceremony once every year to recognise the best pupil in each grade. Although her cumulative average score has been between 93% and 98%, she has not won the award.

In my bid to motivate and “drive” Somto to win, I made her put down a list of toys and games I would gift her if she won the award. That, however, was where trouble set in!

At the beginning of each term’s examination period, the school management would notify us that Somto has been admitted at the school’s sick bay due to severe stomach cramps. The cramps would be so severe that she would request to be taken home, even if that meant missing the exams. This became a trend rather than a coincidence. I then connected the dots and realised that the stomach cramps were caused by exam pressure, which I had unknowingly inflicted on her by my motivation style.

I subsequently changed my approach to motivating her. I made her understand how much I believe and trust in her, and how much I appreciate the hard work she puts into her studies.

The butterflies in her stomach during exams are now a thing of the past, and Somto’s cumulative average score has been on the rise!

I realised that in my bid to motivate my daughter, I ended up creating unnecessary anxiety that would have derailed her academic progress. This showed me that people react to pressure in different ways and I need to be sensitive to this fact!

This is even more relevant to my work environment – some people are greatly motivated by simply acknowledging and appreciating their contribution to the team.

As for my daughter, I have already decided to buy her the toys at the end of the academic session, as long as she maintains her strong scores, regardless of whether she wins the overall best award or not.”

Rohit Vengurlekar – Business Head, Godrej Kenya

Adaptability

“Ananya, my 5-year-old daughter, has already studied in three schools in two countries (India and Kenya) and boasts of friends from more than 10 countries. She has spent the last three months in three continents (Asia, Africa and North America), as she accompanies her working parents, for whom travel is essential.

Her ability to adapt quickly to rapidly changing environments and learn different cultures, languages and lifestyles is something I admire and wish to emulate.

When we shifted to Kenya from India 15 months ago, we weren’t sure how she would cope. I still remember how she cried on her first day at her new school. But, a Kenyan class teacher and a Pakistani headmistress eased her into the school culture. In no time, she featured on her school soccer team. During a match, she was shouting at her teammates in Swahili, to pass the ball to her. The pass didn’t happen correctly and the next word that came out was in Marathi, which gladly no one apart from my wife and I understood!

With global careers and working parents, kids are expected to adapt quickly to new environments. I am grateful to Ananya for being an understanding, curious, responsible and adaptable child.”

Hernan Gonzalez – HR Director, Godrej Latin America

Being grateful, everyday

“About three and a half years ago I was blessed with a daughter, Trinidad. Since her arrival, I have been in complete awe of her daily evolution and growth.

Trini, as we like to call her, has made me reconsider the miracle of life and, with it, put into practice the value of gratitude.

Connecting with her first smiles, seeing her taking her first steps, listening to her pronounce her first words – I simply cannot take any of this for granted, especially when I am witnessing the wonder of life in front of my eyes.

A few days ago, my wife Belén and I attended a PTA meeting at Trini’s kindergarten, where the teacher gave us feedback about Trini’s first months of class. Understanding her interests and preferences – even though she is so young – made me discover her uniqueness. As a dad, I face the challenge of helping her unfold the best version of herself, leaving aside my own expectations and desires, silencing many of my fears and anxieties. I feel that Trini is an opportunity the Universe provides me to become a better human being – more humble, more compassionate and constantly learning.”

Saurin Shah – Head – Consumer Marketing Insights

To love and be loved

“My son and I were watching TV, when an ad on life insurance popped up. It led to the following conversation:

He: Papa, what is insurance?

Me: Insurance is a small charge to protect against an untoward incident. For example, we buy car insurance. So, for a few thousands that we pay, the company could pay us back up to a few lakhs in case of an accident.

He: Wow, that’s nice!

Me: In the same way, if something happens to me, for a few thousands that we pay, the company could pay you lakhs of rupees.

He: Not fair. I will never accept that money. You are much more valuable to me than all the money the company can pay!

And he made my day, with a few tears in my eyes.

My son taught me that relationships matter over everything else. In business, making employees and vendors feel loved would go a long way to drive motivation.

There will be ups and downs in everyone’s work life. These could be moments due to work stress, due to promotions and compensation, due to business not doing too well. In times like these, making someone feel loved and appreciated gives a big boost to motivation levels.”

Chitwan Singh – Business Head, Godrej West Africa

Making a fresh start, every day

“Just the other day, my son Veer returned from school complaining about how horrible his day was. All his friends were being mean to him, teasing him and not playing with him. He didn’t wish to speak to them ever again, and despite my efforts to console him, he went to bed crying. I was upset that it was probably because of my frequent location movements that he isn’t able to make meaningful friendships and was wondering whether I should talk to his teachers about this. Eventually, I decided to let it be for another day before considering any further action.

The next evening, I asked him how his day was. To my surprise, he was beaming and said it was great! “I played football with my friends, and then got to eat my favourite chocolate brownie at the cafeteria,” he told me. He carried absolutely no trace of baggage from the previous night. It was almost as if nothing ever happened.

The most important thing I learnt from my son is how to make a fresh start every morning. I wish I could incorporate more of his philosophy in my work life too. When things are not going right, be the more magnanimous one in forgiving and give second chances more often.”

Jose Toscano – CEO, Godrej Argentina

Sharing is definitely caring

“Being a dad is one of the most amazing and unexpected journeys in anyone’s life. While I want my kids to succeed at school, learn different subjects and pass the infinite number of exams, at the end of the day, what really matters on top of everything is being true to yourself and your values. To me, that comes before any result or goal.

I love going to watch my son’s soccer games and training sessions, whenever I can. I watch him kicking the ball, marking, scoring and learning to play as a team. Last December, at the year-end ceremony, when his soccer coach was giving out medals to each of the kids as a gift, he realised that there was a missing medal for the last boy in the line.

After a few seconds, I saw Benicio taking off the medal from his neck and spontaneously giving it away to his mate. In that moment I was able to see how this was worth more than a goal, a game and even a championship. With that action, I learnt much more than what I taught him.”

Aaron Radomsky – CEO, Godrej South Africa

We are all unique 

“I had always wanted to be a father, but more than that, both my wife Charlie and I always wanted to have children early in life. Our thinking was twofold – firstly, as a young married couple we knew we wouldn’t have much money and would be spending most time at home or on a “travel budget”, so we might as well spend that time bringing up children. And, secondly and, most importantly, we wanted to be young enough when our children where adults and when possibly grandchildren were born.

As new parents, one seems to think that raising kids is copy-paste. That what worked for the first will work for the second.

When Hudson – our older one – was born, I had told my wife that we should teach him that nothing is impossible for him and that he was clever and strong. I remember telling him this every night when I kissed him good night, ‘Hudson, you can do anything because you are clever and strong’.

My younger son never responded to this constant affirmation and in fact started to tear up colouring in pictures if he went out the lines, or thought he was stupid when he made minor mistakes. He interpreted my supposedly positive affirmation as gospel and when something went wrong, he thought it meant he wasn’t clever or strong at all. After changing this narrative, he blossomed and started to relish in drawing out of the lines, taking risks and growing confident in his own skin.

This was the first lesson I learnt as a father – every individual has their own unique personality. Don’t try and use the same approach on everyone!

Later on, I recall an occasion when we had gone on holiday. Hudson was about 5-years-old. During one of the bush walks, with Hudson saddled on my shoulders, I was trying to teach him about nature, pointing out a calcified pile of droppings with a bird claw sticking out and trying to explain it was a carnivore dropping. Then, onto some shrubbery explanations. All of a sudden, he seemed to show interest. ‘I know, dad!’ he said. I waited…finally my constant teaching was about to pay off with him delivering deep insights about nature. ‘What, Hudson?’ I asked. ‘Why don’t we all just be quiet and enjoy the scenery?!’ he responded. I was smacked. My wife and friends almost fell over laughing so hard! I now try to be more conscious of when to teach and when to just be!

Lesson here – not everything needs to be explained. Sometimes allowing people to learn through their own experiences is the way to go.

Vaibhav Ram – HR Head – Africa, Middle East & USA

Getting to know myself, through my daughter

“From the moment I held Gurnoor in my arms I felt a strange connection, like we were connected by an invisible but real umbilical cord. Like most parents, I find it hard to break free from the warmth of her hug, I feel the lightest when she rides me like a horse, most curious when we are reading together, and my boldest when we engage in some fun acting.

When I am with her, I am in touch with a part of me that I don’t seem to know too well and it will be safe to say she brings out the best in me.

She doesn’t need to put in an effort to encourage my mother to climb a steep flight of stairs, ‘Come on dadi, you can do it… one step at a time’. I, on the other hand, get frustrated because my mother is taking too long and we may miss the sunset.

She doesn’t differentiate between her bus driver, the security guard at her school or her teacher. She will greet them all the same, while I often walk past so many people who help me get through my day like they don’t exist.

She doesn’t fret when she has to change her schools because I am moving or pick up a new language. She is far more resilient, while I lose sleep over an uncertain future.

She wears what she likes, acts as she wants… She doesn’t feel the pressure to conform like I do.

She is curious, trying her hands at so many things – ballet, gymnastics, drama, skating, while I cling to my comfort zones.

There is so much that I learn from her every day. She doesn’t need to pretend or justify anything. She just goes on her merry way and does things that are so not obvious to me. Maybe we were all meant to be pure like them, but got corrupted through our own vices of competition, greed and status.

Is Gurnoor special? Maybe not, because when I meet her friends they are all alike, all the same. It is me who has lost the simplicity, purity and the love this life has to offer.

It is with her that I am trying to learn to live again… to be human again!”

Sameer Shah – Head – Investor Relations & Finance, India & SAARC

Learning from mistakes

“What I have learned parenting my son Krish over past few years is, don’t step in with solutions quickly.

A few years ago, we were in the process of scouting for a new school for him. Post both internal and external evaluations – and, importantly, discussions with Krish – he was granted an admission in one of the most reputed schools. But we soon realised he was not enjoying himself the same, due the school’s slow teaching pace. My wife Priti and I noticed this a bit earlier than he did, but we waited for him to come to us and say it was a mistake to take admission in that school, and he wanted to change schools (within a year), again. We pushed him to prioritise on potential schools, keeping in mind their curriculum, conversations with a few students, and also getting it right this time around. Since last year, he is feeling more than settled in his new school and is now and having an enjoyable experience.

The idea is to give space and make your child more independent, letting them learn from mistakes. 

I have been trying to replicate the same philosophy in my team. Give your team members direction, guidance, have a conversation before kicking off critical project and give ample of operational independence. This will ensure they become more creative, independent, feel empowered and also responsible very early on. In the worst-case scenario, they may find a different, or better solution. If not, they will learn from their mistakes. This also reduces fear of failure and encourages an entrepreneurial mindset.

I personally think this approach creates a win-win situation for employees and also for business, as you are enabling leaders for tomorrow, earlier on.”

Naveen Gupta – Business Head –  Africa, Middle East & USA

Embracing equality, diversity and inclusivity

“Last year, my daughter Bhoomika shared that one of her gay friends had come out and that she stood up for her, while some kids at university were making fun. Bhoomika was very upset when she shared this story with us. We tried to comfort her, making her understand there are different kinds of people in the world – some more tolerant and accepting, while others not.

One of the other issues Bhoomika feels strongly about, is the recent decision by certain states in the USA regarding abortion laws. She often questions why men and women are not treated equally, and how unfair it is that lawmakers – a majority of whom are men – make decisions about women’s agency.

Seeing Bhoomika, I realise that the world needs to be much more inclusive and embrace equality and diversity. It is important for each of us to look at situations with an open mind and give fair treatment to all communities.

This shouldn’t be an effort, but an obvious way for us to embrace.”


Thank you to our leaders who took the time to share their stories. I hope that we can all take some time to learn from our younger selves to bring more clarity and joy in our adult lives. And please also do share your stories. We would love to hear from you.

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