When we talk about S3 Jesus-like Leadership, I often make the point that the very best examples of leadership I see are not in the corporate or nonprofit worlds, but in good families. The reason for that is easy to explain: parents generally love their children more than bosses love their employees.

At the core of leading like Jesus is the choice we make between being a self-serving or God-serving leader. We know that Jesus is the perfect model of God-serving leader. After all, he gave up his life to do his Father’s will and save not only his followers, but all humans -- even those who rejected him.

It is difficult for the rest of us not to be a little self-serving at least some of the time. And we certainly can’t expect leaders to be always ready to give up their lives for their followers. But good parents would make that sacrifice in a wink, without thinking twice, to spare the lives of any one of their children.

Good parents do, in fact, sacrifice a large portion of their lives for their children, even if we never find ourselves faced with life and death circumstances. We change our lifestyles. We forgo pleasures of all sorts. We often forsake friends. We endure sleepless nights. We move for better schools or work opportunities to support our families. 

We build our lives around giving our children unconditional love and support to become all that God has gifted them to be — and no sacrifice is too great if it will truly benefit our children.

Some parents are too indulgent and end up depriving their children of the coping skills they will need to live happy and purposeful adult lives. But even then, their hearts are in the right place — even if their heads, hands and habits are not adequately prepared for the daunting task of effective parenting.

As Fathers’ Day approaches this Sunday, it’s a good time to focus on the demands and rewards of parenting. If you are a parent, I can assure you of one thing: you will never hold any more important leadership role no matter how high you climb the ladder of so-called success. There is simply no leadership endowment more important for you to serve than the one which comes with parenthood.

As a father myself, I bring this up on the eve of Fathers’ Day for two reasons. First, it is so important. And second, we fathers forget so often and in so many ways what really matters most in life.

It’s estimated that about 22 million kids — more than a quarter of all children under 21 — are being raised in single-parent homes. An estimated 85 percent of those homes are absent a father. Among First World countries, the U.S. has the highest percentage of single-parent families — about 34 percent. 

It wasn’t always that way. In 1970 only 13 percent of U.S. families were headed by a single parent. By 1996 the percentage had more than doubled. And then it continued to grow. Divorce and unmarried women having babies are the big causes. Some 58 percent of single-parent families are led by a divorced or separated mother. Never-married mothers head another 24 percent of those families. 

But when it comes to the nation’s loss of fatherhood, single-parent statistics tell only part of the story. Shortly after Stephen Jobs, the famous founder of Apple, died this past October, Time magazine carried a story by Walter Isaacson, who had spent quite a bit of time with Jobs while writing his biography, which was due out in just a matter of days. 

Jobs was suffering from pancreatic cancer, and a couple of years before his death he suddenly and uncharacteristically was eager to share his life with a biographer. He asked Isaacson, a well-known writer, who was happy to oblige. 
Isaacson said near the end of his meetings with Jobs, he asked the busy, peripatetic genius “why he had been so eager, during close to 50 interviews and conversations over the course of two years, to open up so much for a book when he was usually so private?” 

Jobs replied: “I wanted my kids to know me. I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.” 

His sentence stopped me cold. This man becomes an international celebrity. He builds a fortune worth billions for his wife and kids. Then those kids finally get to know him between the pages of a book after he dies. How sad! 

But not so rare. Statistics show that even while joblessness remains at troubling levels, many white collar workers are putting in longer hours on the job. They won’t match Jobs’ success in terms of either riches or fame. And if they get any warning at all about their impending deaths, they probably won’t find a biographer eager to sit down with them to chart the details of their lives. 

As Father’s Day approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on what makes a successful man. Not all of us remain self-centered and ego-driven all our lives. But even if we do, there is something we should consider as we spend our lives — presumably on what matters most to us. 

In our Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus Encountersthere is a little exercise that’s instructive when it comes to determining what’s really of lasting value in our lives. We ask participants a series of questions about presumably prominent people. We ask them to name the world’s five richest people. We ask them to tell us the names of the last five Heisman Trophy winners. We ask for the last five Miss America winners. We request the last five World Series winners in order.

Few score close to 50 percent — even working in small teams. 

Then we ask them to turn the page. The questions change. Now we ask them to name five teachers who have helped them. We ask them to give us the names of five friends. Everybody gets 100 percent — no need to work in teams. 

Men, especially young men, who are wondering what it means to be a man should take a cue from my dad. When I was in grade school, the media made Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone iconic heroes. Every boy in my class, including me, sported a coonskin cap. (Yeah, really.) 

One day in the car I was prattling on about how Daniel Boone was a hero because he blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky, opening the area to settlement. And when he wasn’t taming the continent, he was engaged in a series of military adventures. 

“Did he have kids?” my dad asked. “Yes,” I said, not sure of the details. (It turns out he had 10, same as my dad.) 

“How do you think they felt when he was gone for years at a time?” he asked. 

I fell silent. That thought had never occurred to me. But I knew I wouldn’t like it at all if my dad took off for two or three years to blaze a trail and build some stupid settlement. I wanted him to come home from work at night and play ball with me or help me with my homework. 

Finally I mumbled softly, “I wouldn’t like it at all.” 

I fired Daniel Boone as a hero that day — though I still wore the darn cap because all my buddies did, and a guy’s got to do what his buddies do if he wants to be cool, which I did. 

If you’re a dad — or you could be — take a little time this week to ask yourself what kind of father you want to be. 

It’s true the world needs epic heroes to explore the frontiers of space, science and business success. But it’s also true that kids need dads — good dads who spend time with them, who not only love them but show them love, who hold them, encourage them, hug them in good times and bad, pat them on the back and butt, guide them, set sensible boundaries within which they can grow without undue risk, and teach them love and discipline, most especially by modeling both themselves. 

Somewhere along the line I learned, too, that the best way to love your children is to love their mother. That’s a whole lot easier if you only have one to deal with. Choose wisely. 

Maybe I shouldn’t be yapping on like this because I am not the perfect father. But I am still trying to be the best I can because it matters a lot to me. If you’re a dad, I hope it matters a lot to you too. 

Happy Father’s Day! 

Owen Phelps, Ph.D. 
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute

Copyright © 2012 Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, 208 E. North St., Durand, IL 61024. Any part of this newsletter may be reproduced so long as there is full attribution, our web site is listed, and any electronic reproduction includes a link to our site:

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