Father’s Day is coming up, so in the spirit of honoring the male role models in our lives, I’d like to share a special note with all the dads and other men (and women) out there about how to raise your daughters to be a successful, confident and happy future executive.
Over the years, I’ve spoken in front of myriad professional women’s groups, and coached women at every level and in every industry imaginable, and one factor regularly surfaces as having a major influence on their current levels of confidence and self-efficacy: their relationship with their fathers.
I often get asked how I’ve developed my confidence and sense of self, and more and more I realize how much of the credit goes to my father (and mother) for setting this foundation in me in all these ways and more.
Disclaimer: I am a linguist, not a psychologist, and this post is not intended to overgeneralize women, fathers, or anyone else. My goal is to raise awareness of some patterns of communication behaviors that can have lasting effects, and offer perspective and tools to help you avoid those pitfalls and promote happiness and success at home, in the workplace and beyond.
The most genuinely confident and effective women I work with typically have stories to tell of how their fathers set high standards because they genuinely believed that their daughters were capable and worthy of success at that level.
Their dads co-celebrated success and lamented failures together, and knew when the appropriate response was a consoling hug or a loving “kick in the pants” to stop the pity party, learn a lesson and do better next time. And they knew that there was a time and a place for each.
Here’s the thing: Your daughter may know intellectually that you love her and that your goal is to want the best for her, to reach what you see as her fullest potential. But the way these intentions are communicated often are interpreted in the exact opposite way: that love and approval are conditional, contingent upon perfection and successful attainment of whatever standard they believe you set.
There are so many little moments in life that can individually go unnoticed, but add up over time. Was she the MVP of her field hockey team or did she get the lead in the play, and if not how did you respond? Did you let her know if you believed these were even worthwhile pursuits in the first place? Did you think she went to the right university, got the right degree, got the right job, is dating or married the right person (and at the right age), and even (ugh!) did she feel like you thought she was pretty enough? These may seem like they shouldn’t be relevant, but dad, trust me, they are. More than you’ll ever know.
How do I know?
Dad (a music teacher) encouraged me to audition for all-state band (I played the alto sax), which I did all four years of high school, even though I only made it once. After each audition, we’d talk about what went right and wrong and how to do better next time.
He pushed me to take honors classes but didn’t flinch when I agreed to take AP history and Spanish but not calculus (thank goodness!)
(I’ll probably get flack for this, but I’m going to mention it anyway.) He also always told me I was pretty, even when my ever-fluctuating adolescent weight was on the top end of the yo-yo curve. To a teenage girl’s self-esteem, it mattered. A lot.
I know he hated the idea of me moving to Japan (twice!), and tried to talk me out of it both times, but ultimately supported the decision – and even came to visit once – because he knew it was something I needed to do.
When I decided to go for my PhD in my late 20s instead of getting a “regular job” he asked probing questions so we could discuss the pros and cons and the best way to make it work. And the discussions and interest continued, guilt-free, even when it took twice as long as expected to graduate.
As I went through romantic relationship after relationship, he never once gave me a guilt trip about my biological clock or his (undeniable) desire for grandchildren even though I was 40 before I finally met my husband. I’m sure that time frame was even harder for him to rationalize given that he and my mother met in high school and have been happily married ever since.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we’d have long conversations full of intimate details and unfiltered emotions. He’s definitely not that kind of dad. But he’d show interest and ask how things were going. He’d offer advice when warranted and offer objective counterpoints when he disagreed, but ultimately he let me know that he recognized my efforts and intentions, trusted my judgment and respected my decision, even when we didn’t see eye to eye.
Most importantly, even when I had genuinely messed up, even though he was really upset with me in the moment, he never belittled me or called me names, and he made it clear that he still loved me.
So to all you dads out there, how can you communicate with your daughters in a way that builds her confidence and empowers her with the skills and perspective to be a successful leader?
- Talk to your daughter. Don't be afraid to initiate conversations, and ask tough and sometimes personal questions to help her think through things, then be prepared to listen. Listen to truly understand her motivations rather than to identify the holes in her argument and formulate your rebuttal.
- Challenge her to try new things, and set ambitious but attainable goals. Celebrate victories, acknowledge and praise progress and efforts. Reflect on failures together, and recognize the difference between when to say, “it’s okay, you can’t win ‘em all” and “I don’t think you really gave it your best. What happened?”
- Invite her to initiate difficult conversations with you, and encourage her to express when she needs help, doesn't understand something, or otherwise disagrees with you, instead of hiding her true feelings.
- Even when she does make a mistake or otherwise does something you don’t approve of, make it clear that the you think the decision or action was dumb, not that she is stupid. Then – possibly an hour or so later after you’ve cooled off – remind her that you love her and are proud of her no matter what.
If you can fine-tune your objectivity regarding this aspect of your relationship with your daughters now – no matter what their age or family or professional status – that sets a foundation for success that no fancy MBA can match!
Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at email@example.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!