This past weekend, I took my 11-year-old son to Camp Highland for their Father-Son Getaway weekend. For you dads with sons between 7-16 years old, I highly recommend this weekend.
We arrived Friday evening at 7pm, parked and put our stuff in our assigned cabin. Then we had some free time to throw the football, kick the soccer ball, or just relax. At 8pm the weekend officially began. The first rule was there were no rules. Just honor the camp property and your cabin-mates’ property. But they asked (not required) us to leave our cell phones in our cars, and leave our cars where they were parked until Sunday after lunch.
I’ll be the first – ok, my wife will be the first – to tell you that I always have my iPhone with me. In this day and age in the tech startup world, that’s pretty much normal. That said, I didn’t give it a second thought. I had nothing pressing this weekend, no emails expected, no phone calls waiting, and nothing going on in the sports world that I really cared about. So, I put the iPhone in the car, and left it there all weekend.
Then I put my wallet and my car keys in a deep pocket of my duffle bag. Wow! Empty pockets for an entire weekend. Freedom! For 48 hours, someone else told me what to do, when to eat, and where to be. That could be uncomfortable for an entrepreneur, but it was freeing. However, the biggest benefit was unencumbered time with my son. I appreciated it, and he appreciated it. By the way, you can see satellites in the sky from Elijay, GA. That’s how clear the sky is outside of the ATL.
The entire weekend was built around giving the Dads (there were 20 of us there) a lot of ammunition towards being better Dads and raising strong sons with a firm moral compass. There were several interactive sessions of teaching and learning, which I soaked up gladly. Everything was pointing to Sunday morning, when each man would bring his son up in front of the entire camp and give him the equivalent of an Old Testament blessing, though obviously without the cattle, herds, and land.
Do you see what we all just signed up for? Not only do we have to get up in front of a group of men we don’t know and speak candidly about our sons, but we also had to look our sons in the eyes and tell them some pretty deep stuff, some of which can be uncomfortable to say.
I’ll leave the rest of that to your imagination, and move on to the lesson for today. Personally, I was very comfortable with the fantastic exercise that came to a wonderful conclusion on Sunday morning. That’s because I am very accustomed to saying very, very deep stuff to my kids. For those of you who don’t know, we adopted both our kids from Kazakhstan at age 3, and we’ve told them the entire story more times than I can remember. It used to be painful to tell the whole story, but now it’s a wonderful story of grace, because we’re accustomed to telling it.
So, how good are you, Mr. Seasoned Entrepreneur, at confrontation? At talking about deep, personal stuff with your co-founders, employees, and board members? How good are you at standing in front of a big group of people you don’t know and thoroughly expressing yourself?
Take our exercise from this weekend – Fathers & Sons – and tweak it to your startup scenario, with employees and their families, your co-founders and executive team, and the entire Board of Directors and your biggest investors. Now tell them everything that’s on your heart, good and bad, about your relationship with them.
If you’re not used to doing this, you might not make it past the first sentence. So get used to it. Do it all the time. Confront the crap in your business immediately, and praise the victories loudly and ceremoniously.
When you’re used to doing it because that’s all you’ve ever done, then saying uncomfortable words in front of lots of people will come naturally. Because it’s not just being a Dad. It’s being a leader.