Leadership Lessons From Two Younger Sisters
August 21, 2015
This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian’s take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It’s like our “employee of the month” but less “of the month”-y. Andrew Capland is on the marketing team at Wistia. This is his first Non Sequitur Fridays post!
I like reading business books.
Over the years I’ve read tons of different books on business and leadership, like Who Moved My Cheese, Great by Choice, Getting to Yes, Leaders Eat Last, and Steve Jobs, just to list a few of my favorites.
This isn’t surprising to most people that know me.
My mom is a professional coach. She spends her days helping executives improve their leadership skills and teaching teams to work more effectively. She’s been sharing books on business leadership with me since I was in high school.
As I read more, I started to notice themes. Outside of the “how to” textbook style books, some of the main themes I saw were leadership, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.
I realized that many of these books were preaching ideas I already knew. I learned them from my sisters growing up. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
You don’t choose your siblings
They’re assigned to you. Having siblings can drive you crazy at times growing up. They touch all your stuff, eat your favorite snacks, and steal your parents’ attention.
I have two younger sisters. Abbie is a year and a half younger than me, and Melissa is 11 years younger. I love my sisters. But having 2 younger sisters wasn’t always easy ( … it still isn’t easy). The older brother has big shoes to fill.
When we were young, my dad used to always say, “look out for your sisters.” I’m sure big brothers everywhere are nodding their heads in agreement. Lucky for me, nobody really picked on my sisters growing up, so I didn’t have to fend off any bullies.
“Looking out” usually meant making sure they didn’t get lost in the woods when we went skiing, or drown in the neighborhood pond, or eat too much junk food and get sick when my parents weren’t around. As the oldest sibling, you’re forced into a leadership role.
As I got older, “looking out” for my sisters changed. It stopped being about making sure they didn’t get hurt or into trouble.
It started being more about setting a good example, playing peacekeeper within my family, and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. The following are some lessons I learned along the way.
Sisters want to be like their big brothers. I didn’t grow up with any younger brothers, so I can’t speak from experience, but I imagine they do, too. My little sisters loved trying things that I was into.
Growing up, I was into soccer. So, naturally they were into soccer. I liked going skiing, and they got into skiing. I thought skateboarding was cool, and they would come to the skatepark and watch me roll around.
As we became teens, they started to emulate me in other ways. I came home late, so they’d come home late. I’d talk back to my parents, so they’d talk back to my parents. I’d drive fast, and they’d drive fast (well Melissa was too young to drive, but Abbie definitely drove fast).
As time went on, I realized I was making it worse for myself. Each time my sisters copied something I did that upset my parents, I’d get in trouble. I’d also have to endure the arguing between them, and then help play peacekeeper afterwards. Not ideal.
I realized if I set a better example (or got sneakier about hiding my indiscretions), they’d likely follow my lead. That meant less fighting with my parents, less arguing at the house, less peacekeeping. Yes!
When I became a professional, I realized the same follow-the-leader leadership was true in the office.
“Leadership is about integrity, honesty, and accountability. All components of trust.”
— Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last
A few years into my first job, my manager told me we’d be hiring someone to help support the work I was doing. As I helped onboard the new employee, I wanted to create a really productive team that cranked out work.
Rather than show him the long and painful way of completing our work, I wanted to share some of the shortcuts I learned over my whopping 3 years of experience. I told him things like, “This is how you’re supposed to do this, but usually I take this shortcut, and it’s way quicker.” What a rookie mistake that was.
I quickly learned that didn’t scale very well. Shortcuts lead to things being done wrong, which meant more headaches for our team.
If I was going to help groom co-workers who were super productive, I needed to set a better example. Showing leadership meant completing tasks the right way. All the time. Even when that’s the long way.
In retrospect, it was so obvious. I should have remembered how things were growing up.
The older brother isn’t always interested in listening. At least, I wasn’t. If my sisters wanted to share a story or an opinion, I’d simply speak over them when we were kids. Since I was bigger and stronger they’d usually back off.
As we got older, the dynamic started to change. A lot. I realized that not listening to my sisters carried over into a lot of other activities. If I was rude to one of my sisters, they’d get me back. Slowly. Over time. In devious annoying ways that only little sisters know. I had to change my approach.
I started listening a lot more. Asking how their days went. Sharing more of our family snacks. Sometimes even inviting them to shoot hoops in the driveway.
I learned that by changing my approach, I improved my relationships and increased the likelihood they’d help me when I needed it.
Business books put a big emphasis on adaptability.
“It is safer to search in the maze than to remain in a cheeseless situation.”
— Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?
When you get hired for a new job, at a certain point the company is taking a chance on you, and you’re taking a chance on the company. One of the traits that’s super important is adaptability — adapting your marketing, your business strategy, and your personal interactions to help the company succeed. Obviously all risks should be well researched and calculated. But, if you’re not willing to try new ideas, venture into new territory, and go against the grain, you’ll have a hard time succeeding in the corporate world.
My sisters taught me this lesson early in life.
Being able to read moods and body language is really important when growing up around 2 teenage girls. Even more important was the ability to resolve arguments.
Being able to slow down, not get overly emotional, and compromise during disagreements isn’t easy. Especially when you’re the oldest, and expecting to always getting your way. If you try and win every argument — you’ll lose the war. I learned that the hard way.
The same goes at work.
“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.”
— Simon Sinek
Being able to read people and understand their emotions is a big part of working in teams. It’s important to understand if your team is feeling stressed, overworked, threatened, etc.
Resolving disagreements and navigating politics are crucial in the working world. No matter what industry you’re in. There will probably be favorites, suck-ups, and bullies in your office, and you’ll probably need to work with them to accomplish some team goals.
If you can’t relate and problem-solve, these situations can swell into bigger lingering problems. Not fun for anyone.
Sisters for the win
I love my sisters. Although I’m still the oldest, they look out for me as much as I do for them these days. They’re grown-ups now (kinda). Abbie lives on her own in Manchester, NH, and Melissa is heading to college next year. It makes me feel old just thinking about it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how grateful I am for my sisters. They’ve taught me more than any book ever could.
What lessons have you learned from your family? How have they impacted your career?