Why Fathers Matter

Father Matter

Sadly, in our throw-away culture, one of the things that’s increasingly being viewed as disposable is fathers.  Take a survey of people between 22 and 37—prime child-bearing ages—and you’ll find that only about half of them think kids need both a mom and dad to grow up happily1.   But the truth is that fathers matter.  A whole bunch.  Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson  says that it’s demoralizing to grow up without a father in your life.  You feel cast aside, as if you don’t matter much.  Without a dad the world can seem a dismal place.  “The good father,” he says, “helps you to become your best self.”

What Fathers Do For Us

Fathers are the encouragers in our lives.  They’re the ones who say, “Go ahead!  You can do it!” even when we’re pretty sure we can’t.  They believe in our potential.  They teach us to take risks, to try, to be daring, even in the face of fear.

They set limits and hold up standards, teaching us self-control and responsibility.2  And as Peterson says, it’s bearing responsibility that gives life its meaning.

Dads hold out expectations for us.  They push us to excel.  Feeling a father’s pride in your accomplishments helps you strive to do and be your best.

When I was growing up, I took piano lessons.  And even when I felt I had mastered a piece of music, my dad would nod and smile and say, “Keep practicing.  You’ll get it yet.”   In time, I became good enough to place highly in competitions.  Then I would get from him the words I longed to hear:  “Good job.”  And that meant more than any trophy or ribbon.

Unlike mothers, who tend to talk to us in our own language levels, Dads help us expand our vocabularies by talking with a broader, more adult range of words.

It’s the rough and tumble side of dads, who tickle and wrestle with us, who teach us sports and games and skills, that teaches us how to deal with the world head-on, to be independent and to assert ourselves.   We learn from their roughhousing how to be resilient in the face of defeat, and how to brush defeat aside.

They tell us stories from their worlds that show us the positive value of competition and take us to new  places that we wouldn’t dare go on our own.  They instill confidence in us, support us, and help us feel secure.

They’re the ones who say, “Enough is enough!” teaching us about rules and about what it means to be moral and fair.  It’s no wonder that kids with fathers do better in school, are more playful, and learn to use humor to cope with setbacks.

Fathers Matter

If you are fortunate enough to have had a father in your world, take time to tell him that he matters to you, that you’re grateful for all he has taught you.  And if you’re a father, a step-father, or a father-figure in someone’s life, know that your role is not only important, but irreplaceable, and take pride in that.  Dads make us better people and the world a better place.

Happy Father’s Day, you Dads out there.  A father’s love is fierce, and sometimes it’s not an easy job, keeping the balance between being strong and being harsh.  But that fierce love gives us our strength and courage.  And as Peterson says, the world would be a much more dismal place without you.


1 The Importance of Fathers (According to Science)

2 A Father’s Importance for Children: Thoughts for Father’s Day




In Celebration of the Nurturers–A Tribute to Mothers

Mom and Son

As I was thinking about what I wanted to share with you today, it dawned on me that it’s Mother’s Day here in the States.  For me, it’s a day filled with happy and meaningful memories of a woman whose character I find myself appreciating more and more deeply with every passing yea.  I genuinely hope that you can say the same, and that, if your Mom is still living, you’ll tell her so.

The thought occurred to me that in today’s climate of speech policing, this day set aside for honoring mothers will probably soon become “Parents’ Day” or “Carer’s Day” or some such thing.  But that’s a topic for another time.

Right now, it’s still “Mother’s Day,” and I asked myself what the essential quality is that all mothers share.  I had to think about it for a while, because mothers, being human after all, span the whole spectrum from “bad” to “good.”  But I think I finally put my finger on it–at least if we set the truly pathological ones aside.

What Mothers Do

The one thing all mothers do, the one quality that behooves us to be grateful for them, is that they nurtured us.  Even the most disadvantaged ones, the most disinterested, the most careless, did what was needed to keep us alive.  Even if that meant, in some cases, giving us away.  Here we are; they did what it took to make that happen.

For the ones who did the bare minimum, let’s use this day to offer them our forgiveness and compassion.  They don’t know what they missed.  And they did the best they could.

And for the ones who took the time and spent the energy  not only to feed, clothe, and house us, but to nurture us with an abundance of love, let’s take the time to reflect that love back to them, whether they’re still with us or not.

Let’s think about what they nurtured in us—what they taught us to value and appreciate, how they instilled manners in us and showed us ways to successfully negotiate in the world, how they passed on traditions so we would feel linked to the past, how they said that the only thing they wanted was for us to be happy in our lives and how they did all they knew to do to make that possible.  Let’s think about the pride they took in our achievements, and their unqualified forgiveness when we fell short of the mark, about the way they comforted our hurts and celebrated with us our moments of joy, about how they instilled in us the meaning of the word “home.”

Let’s think about the sacrifices they made for us, the events they attended they didn’t want to attend, the things they did without in order to serve our wishes and needs, the fulfillment of some of their own dreams so that some of ours had a chance to come true.

That’s an awful lot for one human being to be able to do for another.  And the wonder of it is that most moms–and stepmoms, and foster and adoptive moms–consider it a privilege and wouldn’t trade their roles for anything in the world.

It kind of gives you hope for the world, doesn’t it?

Wishing you a day of happy and grateful reflection about the special nurturers who mothered you.




The Power of Positive Leadership

power of positive leadershipPicture someone who’s a leader and chances are you’ll think of a corporate president, a military officer or political figure.  But the mom who is managing a household, or a coworker who’s in charge of a team, or the neighbor who shepherds a troop of Cub Scouts is a leader, too.

If leadership is one of your top personal strengths, the VIA Strengths Survey would tell you that you enjoy “encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.”

From time to time, most of us end up in leadership positions of one kind or another.  And all of us can learn to lead well, and to exert the power of positive leadership.

In fact, it’s positivity that gives leadership its real power.   Read through lists of the qualities that good leaders possess and you’ll  find  characteristics such as:

  • Integrity, Honesty
  • Flexibity
  • Respectful
  • Quiet Confidence, Humility
  • Enthusiastic
  • Open-Minded
  • Open to Change
  • Trustworthy
  • Compassionate
  • Empowers Others, Supportive
  • Risk Taking
  • Sense of Humor

Good Leadership is Service

Len Petrancosta, from Pittsburgh’s Sandler Training by Peak Performance Management, Inc., told me that the primary benefit of leadership is “the satisfaction of helping people reach their full potential.”    And  helping people reach their full potential is exactly what a positive leader does.

Petrancosta and his colleagues train sales people, executives and managers to achieve their potential using a beautiful model called The Leadership Challenge® based on the best-selling book by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.  The model teaches the five practices of good leaders, the ones that all of us can use to lead well, regardless of how humble our leadership roles may be.

  • First, good leaders identify the values that will guide their work and do their best to embody them.
  • Second, they hold a clear, high vision of what they want to achieve, of the best possibilities, and they communicate their vision to others.
  • Then comes the challenge of looking for opportunities and means to achieve their vision.  They experiment and take risks; they try new avenues.  They evaluate the outcomes and make adjustments, building on small wins.
  • Fourth, good leaders build relationships within and between their teams.  They promote cooperation, build trust, and encourage self-determination and competence in their people.
  • And finally, they lead from the heart.  They recognize the efforts of others and express their appreciation.  They celebrate achievements and wins; they applaud excellence and adherence to values.  They acknowledge the cooperative efforts of everybody involved.

By following these practices, leaders serve both their purpose and their people.  They keep focused on what they want to achieve and about how they want to achieve it.  They understand the essential ‘Why’ behind all that they are doing.

Knowing Your Why

To be a great leader, knowing your ‘Why’ is essential.    Here’s how author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action explains it:

Knowing your ‘Why’ is working from the inside out.  It starts with your core values, what you care about most deeply.   And it moves right through the five leadership principles, serving as the foundation for them, and ending in celebration as your purpose is advanced and achieved.

That’s the place to begin.   When you’re leading your kids to cleaning their rooms, let them know it’s because you value beauty, cleanliness and order.  When you’re leading your sales force to achieve new records, remind them of the way your product serves its users and contributes to their lives.

That’s where the power of positive leadership resides: in serving your values and in helping others reach more of their own potential by joining in the effort.

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If you enjoyed this article please pass it on.  This is one in a continuing series of articles on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

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Perseverance: Power Key to Success


Illustration by ilco at stock.xchng

How to Develop Your People Smarts

people smartsFew things contribute to our success in the world or to happiness in our personal lives as our degree of ‘people smarts’ – the ability to relate well with others.

Our connection with others enriches our lives with meaning and knits society together.  It lets us see beyond our differences to the things that we share in common.

Learning how to develop your people smarts – to increase your social intelligence – is one of the best ways to increase your satisfaction with life.  And happily, your brain is wired for connection.  It takes little more than attention to start refining your people skills.

What is Social Intelligence?

Karl Albrecht, executive management consultant and author Social Intelligence: the New Science of Success says that our behavior toward others falls somewhere on a spectrum between having  a “toxic” or a “nourishing” effect.

Toxic behavior makes people feel devalued, angry, frustrated, guilty or otherwise inadequate. Nourishing behavior makes people feel valued, respected, affirmed, encouraged or competent. A continued pattern of toxic behavior indicates a low level of social intelligence – the inability to connect with people and influence them effectively. A continued pattern of nourishing behavior tends to make a person much more effective in dealing with others; nourishing behaviors are the indicators of high social intelligence.

The VIA Strengths Survey says this about people who rank high in social intelligence:  “You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.”

And it really is as simple as that.  You develop social grace first, by thinking about how others are feeling and about what values are driving them, and secondly, by doing your best to put them at ease.

Of course what’s simple isn’t necessarily automatic.  To be bluntly honest, we’re often focused a whole lot more on our own feelings than on the other guy’s, and we react a lot more strongly to our own unease than on his.  To shift our attention, and our caring, from us to them takes a little practice.  Luckily, practice brings such positive and immediate payoffs that focusing on the other guy can quickly become a way of life.

So, How Do You Develop People Smarts?

A good place to start is with what I call the AAA formula for vitality in relating to others:

  •  Attention,
  •  Appreciation, and
  •  Affection.

Think about for a minute.  Isn’t that what you want?  To have somebody give you her  attention?  To have her appreciate your point of view?  To be liked?  Or at least to be met with good will?

Listen, the essence of people smarts is the Golden Rule:  Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Focus your attention on the other person.  Work on your listening skills.  Remember the old adage that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.   And listen with your heart as well as with your head. What do you think he’s feeling?  What does he need?   Practice separating what he’s feeling from your own feelings.  You want to imagine how the situation looks through his eyes.

If you’re not sure that you understand what he wants, try repeating his words back to him.  Say, “what I understood you to say is such and such.  Is that right?”  Give him a chance to reword or clarify things.

If it’s hard for you to figure out what people are feeling, watch some videos on body language over at youtube.     You’ll get some good clues about the things that someone’s posture and gestures and facial expressions can tell you.  And you’ll learn how to use your own body language to communicate your openness and willingness to hear what the other person is saying, too.

In his article, “Life Lessons – How to Get Along with People Even if You Don’t Like Them,” leadership development expert Brian Smith  suggests a 3-R formula for creating positive relationships:

Think of someone you are having difficulty with – for whatever reason you two aren’t getting along. (This could be someone at work or at home) I want you to take on this challenge and turn that situation around. I want you to apply a 3-step process known as the 3R’s – I promise you’ll be amazed at how effective it is in establishing those all-important relationships.

Step One: Rapport: Find out something about the other person other than the work they do. What are their hobbies? – Are they married? – Do they have children? – What do they like to do in their spare time? The easiest way to establish rapport with someone is to get them talking about themselves. Ask questions – get interested in them and then they will be interested in you.

Step Two: Relationship: You can’t have a relationship with anyone that you haven’t first established a rapport with. The more that you can carrying on a conversation with them on subjects that they are interested in – the more likely you are building a relationship with them. You are beginning to break down the barriers between you and the other person. You are starting to like each other.

Step Three: Respect: You won’t respect anyone that you haven’t developed a relationship with first. Respect is reciprocal. You have to give it to get it. The more that you treat someone the way you’d like to be treated the more likely it is that they will respond in kind. You get back – what you send out.

There’s that Golden Rule again.  It truly is the key to social grace.  Putting Smith’s 3 R’s to work lets you bring my remaining  two A’s into play, too.  As you build rapport, you begin to appreciate the other person – to see them as a full, rich human being.   And even if their beliefs and values differ from your own, once you begin to see them more wholly, with respect, you’ll tap into your willingness to offer affection in the form of good will and perhaps even a genuine liking.

Putting Others at Ease

By paying attention and showing genuine interest in another person, you demonstrate the first half of the definition of social intelligence.   The other half is to practice putting the other person at ease.

That means, essentially, offering them your consideration – being kind.   It means being honest and authentic with them.   And it means using effective communication skills.

Most friction between people comes from unclear communication.   We make assumptions about other people, and we think that they can somehow read our minds.   (If you want to learn a superb way to keep communication crystal clear, learn the techniques of non-violent communication.    You’ll find some excellent articles about its power and nuances here.) Take time to be sure you really “got” what the other person is saying.  And listen to her responses to see if she understood you correctly, too.

Even if you need to discuss something unpleasant with someone, you can learn to do it tactfully.  Therapist Mark Tyrrel proposes these guidelines for giving constructive criticism when it’s necessary:

Constructive criticism can also be described as ‘complaint’, which in fact is a clearer way of putting it. The word criticism implies something personal, complaining is more about behavior. Here’s how to do it well…

  • Have a gentle start up to your complaint. The ‘you’ word at the start can immediately switch people into the defensive. Rather start with phrases like: ‘I’ve noticed recently….’
  • Be specific in your feedback. Talk only about the problem with their behaviour / performance you wish to address.
  • Keep it time limited: ‘Recently I’ve noticed that….’, and ‘I want to talk about the incident last week…’ Not: ‘You always/never blah blah blah (because that is all they will hear!)
  • Don’t make comments about their personality, appearance and don’t make wild statements about how everyone else perceives them. This can be unfounded and crushing. Remember some things you say may be irreparable later on so stick to the point! Keep emotions out of it as far as possible.

Being respectful and fair doesn’t mean being scared to deliver the message. It is much more skillful to deliver a difficult message well than to bulldozer someone. Learning to do this well means keeping open lines of communication and maintaining relationships, which of course is most important if you have to work with them in future or they are your romantic partner.

The Dalai Lama said, “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”    That’s the real reason to develop your people smarts—because it brings inner happiness and peace.  It builds connections.  It makes us whole.

If you found this article helpful, please pass it along to your network–because it’s the people smart thing to do.

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