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Executive Dad – Navigating CEO Life And New Fatherhood

In addition to being a co-founder of Kay Group K.K in Japan, Karin Wellbrock is an executive coach and leadership consultant with over 30 years of global experience. A passionate advocate of human-centered, inclusive leadership, she creates exceptional results.

 
Executive Contributor Karin Wellbrock

In the high-stakes world of corporate leadership, fatherhood can be a transformative experience, reshaping priorities, identities, and leadership styles. Hear about the profound shifts that new fatherhood brings for CEOs through the compelling stories of Mike and Evan. Mike, steering his company post-pandemic, and Evan, balancing leadership in Asia with family in Europe. As they navigate this new terrain, they find their leadership enriched by a deeper emotional resonance and a reinvigorated sense of purpose. We explore the intersection of fatherhood and leadership, highlighting how the arrival of a child can inspire a more compassionate, inclusive, and innovative approach to running a company.


A father holding his baby son at the beach

Becoming a father is a profound life event that reshapes a man's identity, priorities, and leadership style. In the case of CEOs, this transition can significantly affect their approach to both their professional and personal lives. Let's explore this transformation through the stories of two CEOs who recently embraced fatherhood—Mike and Evan.


Mike's transformation: From strategy to empathy


Mike's ascent to the role of CEO came amid the turmoil of a global pandemic. Known for his strategic, customer-focused approach, Mike had solidified his reputation through decisive leadership during uncertain times. But the arrival of his newborn shifted something deeper within him.


Fatherhood brought new dimensions to his life and leadership. Where once he valued his 24/7 availability, he now treasures quality time—both at home and at work. Mike's transformation wasn't instantaneous. The initial reluctance to step back and delegate reflected a common CEO's dilemma: the belief that total control equates to success. Yet, as he began to share responsibilities with his team, he witnessed a rise in collective capabilities and engagement.


Through coaching, Mike explored his newly ignited traits of compassion and empathy, integrating them into his professional identity. He noticed his relationships with his team deepening, conversations becoming more meaningful, and his approach to leadership evolving. His personal growth directly influenced his professional environment, fostering a culture of trust and collective accountability.


Evan's cross-continental awakening


As a CEO in Asia, Evan's career trajectory was marked by his analytical abilities and relentless drive. When his first child was born continents away, he faced questions about his identity as a leader and father.


Evan's struggle to balance his demanding role with the desire to be present for his newborn and support his wife was palpable. The emotional conflict of being a high-performing executive and a first-time father abroad challenged his perception of success. Coaching sessions became a sanctuary for Evan, a place where he could express vulnerability and reassess his priorities.


The turning point for Evan came with the realization that his role as a leader did not diminish his need for personal fulfillment. By choosing to honor both his professional aspirations and his new family dynamic, he began integrating these two worlds. Discussions about family at work became common, humanizing him to his team and breaking down barriers.


The neurological and emotional tide of fatherhood


Fatherhood triggers profound neurological changes in men, fostering a greater capacity for emotional depth and learning. Mike and Evan's stories exemplify the research findings on how new fathers undergo a rewiring of the brain, leading to enhanced learning and bonding opportunities.(1)


However, the stress of transitioning into fatherhood, especially for those in high-pressure jobs, can be substantial. Leaders like Mike and Evan are not immune to the psychological distress that can accompany the first year of a child's life. The pressure to be a stable foundation for their families can be both a source of stress and a catalyst for growth.


Leadership lessons from fatherhood


Becoming a father has reinforced for both Mike and Evan that true leadership is about more than decision-making; it's about embodying the values you wish to instill in others. The principles of leading by example, emotional intelligence, creativity, and teamwork that are essential in parenthood are equally relevant in the boardroom.


Lesson 1: Leadership through visibility and action


Mike noticed his toddler mimicking his phone habits, pretending to conduct meetings with a toy phone. This imitation made him reflect on his actions at work. If his child emulated his behavior, so might his employees.


Mike’s Lesson: Leaders must lead by example, both at home and in the office.


Organizational implications: When leaders model the values they want to see in their teams—integrity, dedication, and respect—these characteristics become part of the organizational culture. This can result in increased trust, improved morale, and a more cohesive, value-driven team.


Lesson 2: Cultivating emotional intelligence


During a family dinner, Evan's toddler refused to eat. Instead of getting frustrated, Evan used patience and understanding to address the issue, creating a positive outcome.


Evan’s Lesson: Emotional intelligence is essential for new father-leaders.


Organizational implications: Emotionally intelligent leaders can navigate complex interpersonal dynamics, leading to a more cohesive and supportive workplace environment. This skill facilitates conflict resolution, enhances communication, and drives employee engagement and loyalty.


Lesson 3: Embracing team dynamics


When Mike's partner expertly soothed their crying infant, he realized her approach was different but equally effective. This recognition of different but complementary styles resonated with him at work.


Mike’s Lesson: Teamwork is about leveraging individual strengths for collective success.


Organizational implications: Recognizing and utilizing each team member's unique skills promotes a more inclusive and efficient workplace. Leaders who encourage collaboration and value individual contributions can foster an environment of empowerment and innovation.


Reflections and moving forward


Mike and Evan's journeys into fatherhood have underscored the transformative power of this new identity. For Mike, the shift in priorities has led to a more compassionate leadership style that values the team's collective growth. For Evan, the integration of his personal and professional roles has created a leadership approach that's both more inclusive and humane.


Their experiences affirm the need for CEOs and leaders to embrace their evolving roles—both at home and in the office. Fatherhood, with all its challenges and joys, offers a unique opportunity to reshape and enhance one's leadership philosophy.


As we continue to juggle the delicate balance of work and family life, Mike and Evan's stories serve as a reminder of the profound impact that fatherhood can have on a leader's identity. In embracing these changes, executive dads can find new ways to inspire, influence, and connect with those they lead, setting the stage for a legacy that transcends the boardroom and the living room.


Are you navigating the transformative journey of fatherhood while serving as a CEO? If you find yourself at the crossroads of profound personal change and professional leadership, let's connect. Embark on a path of discovery and growth that integrates the profound lessons of fatherhood into your executive role. For a conversation that could redefine your approach to leadership, reach out to me. Together, we can develop a leadership style that resonates with authenticity and compassion, benefiting not just you but your entire organization.

 

Karin Wellbrock, Leadership Consultant and Coach

In addition to being a co-founder of Kay Group K.K in Japan, Karin Wellbrock is an executive coach and leadership consultant with over 30 years of global experience. A passionate advocate of human-centered, inclusive leadership, she creates exceptional results. To bring innovation to the workplace, she is conducting research in Japan and Europe to increase female representation in leadership roles. Her program "Leader-by-Design" demonstrates this. Dedicated to systemic change, Karin is a member of an all-women-led angel investment club in Asia Pacific, and mentors startup and NGO leaders and game changers in Asia and Europe. It is her mission to elevate 100 women to the C-suite.

 

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