x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A mind set up for success

The Life: Instead of focusing on building leadership skills, parents would be better to teach a mindset in success. It is much more important to teach how to succeed than to lead.

Illustration by Lee McGorie / The National
Illustration by Lee McGorie / The National

Last week, I received a tweet asking me how to teach children leadership skills.

As I pondered this question, I wondered what I had learnt about leadership in my childhood. While there were many points, what strikes me now is that childhood is the time to shape the mindset for success more than a period to develop the skills for leading.

Instead of focusing on building leadership skills, parents would do better to teach a mindset of success. It is much more important to teach how to succeed than how to lead.

My own childhood was full of efforts to shape my mind for success.

I grew up in Indiana and Illinois in the United States. This is not the most exciting part of America, as it is the heart of the country's farming community. But it is the place where I learned three key lessons for success - hard work, working with others and belief.

The mantra around my family's house was "early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise". Surely, this comes from the farming tradition, where the farmers were up before sunrise and out working.

I recognise that the idea of waking early is not universal. But this is the bedrock teaching for working hard. In a farming community, for instance, hard work is valued like a currency.

Echoing the lesson of hard work was my dad's advice when I got my first real job: be at your desk, every day, when your boss arrives in the morning and be there every evening when he leaves. He noted that this would demonstrate that I was a hard worker.

I also grew up playing sports; there wasn't anything else to do. Decades later, I am glad I spent time on the baseball field. It was there that I learnt about working with other people, communicating, mutually challenging and encouraging as well as about the importance of each person fulfilling his position, or role, for the benefit of the team.

In fourth grade, in an attempt to build my self-confidence, my dad placed a poster on my wall that read: "You can if you think you can." Today, this poster is framed and sitting directly across from my desk, still serving as a daily reminder. Seeing this every day when I entered my room shaped my mind and life. Another memorable lesson for success - being thorough - came early in university. This was one of the harder lessons to learn and, admittedly, the least enjoyable. While in university, I worked in the dean's office, and every week he would send a set of study notes to each dorm. This was before the email era, and my task was to collect the notes from the printer, assemble the pages, fold them and count out the exact quantity for each dorm and box them up.

While this was not fun, I learnt a key lesson for success. The dean was a stickler for detail and insisted that everything be done properly. So he would spot-check the quality of my work each week. During his checks, week in and out, he would inevitably find the one mistake.

From that experience came the lesson that a man's work is a reflection of himself. So, continually redo your work - but be right this time.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, the author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Market Leadership Center