Five Things My Dad Taught Me That Shaped My Career

My father was a lieutenant colonel (LT. Col) in the Air Force, so I grew up in a military family. His job required our family to move several times before we eventually settled down in Florida. I’ve always had a great relationship with my dad, and he helped shape me into the man I am today.

The greatest blessing in life is being the father of two amazing girls – a 4-year-old and 18-month-old, who are growing like weeds. We’re still figuring out our parenting style and I'm striving to be the best dad for my kids. But realistically, that learning should never stop.

Along every step of this crazy parenting journey, I keep thinking back to some of the things my dad taught me when I was young, and how they’ve stuck with me over the years and helped me discover who I am as both a father and a leader. Not only do I hope to instill these values in my girls, I try to practice them in my career, too.

1. Work Ethic

Being part of the military means doing whatever’s necessary for work, including being deployed. My dad was sent away for active duty a few times when I was a kid, and I still have the letters he wrote me during Desert Storm. After active duty, he continued to work for with the Department of Defense as a defense contractor, which required traveling across the country.
This instilled a mentality of doing what needs to be done for work. You can’t tell Uncle Sam no. A good soldier (or airman) did what their country needed them to do. If your job needed you to move, that’s exactly what happened. Before I was born, my dad moved my family from Illinois, to Wyoming, and then eventually to Niceville, FL, where I was raised. Yes, it’s a real city, and yes, the people there are nice.

In my career, I travel a lot for work, and that’s okay because I knew what I was getting myself into. While we’re still in the growing phase, the travel can range from light to very heavy, and I've had to take some trips that I normally wouldn’t have to. This only works because I have an amazing wife at home who can pick up the slack while I'm on the road.

2. How to Deescalate a Stressful Situation

I grew up with a pilot for a father. When I was learning to drive, instead of yelling and slamming his foot on an imaginary break on the passenger’s side, we used hand signals. He had different signals for speed up, slow down, and pull over (insert hand motions here).

As a pilot, you must remain calm and keep others calm during stressful situations. I try to keep this at the forefront of my mind when I know big projects are happening at the office. Keeping team members calm and focused during last minute projects – or fire drills, as we call them – is the best thing a leader can do to increase efficiency.

3. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes, Once

My dad taught my sister and me that it’s okay to make mistakes – he actually encouraged them. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not learning anything new that will help you grow. But you should only make that mistake once. Otherwise, something’s not syncing correctly, which can be a huge problem.

I’ve learned both in parenthood and in the professional world that it’s better for me to take a step back and let my kids and my employees to take a task and run with it. I’ve realized that giving my team time to complete something to the best of their abilities speaks volumes to what they’re capable of and identifies ways I can help them grow.

4. How to Prevent Work Burnout

My dad is one of the hardest working people I know. At the risk of sounding redundant, he does what he needs to do to get it done. But, I've also learned from the best that it’s okay to take a midday snooze or squeeze in a round of golf for the sake of your mental health.

This is something that I've attempted to pound into the minds of my engineers. We have a lot of projects that take hours on end – but will help the company hit major milestones. And as we approach these deadlines, sometimes we have to strap in, work longer hours, and burn the candle at both ends to cross the finish line. Once we accomplish our mission, I highly encourage my team to take a half day on a Friday, or sneak in a longer weekend to make up for the extra work that was put in. Since they usually don’t listen to my advice, we try to keep a keg tapped and snacks stocked in the kitchen as a way to help them relax and decompress while in the office.

It’s extremely important for leaders to promote mental health days to their teams. Burnout is a real thing, and it’s almost impossible to keep employees passionate and motivated if they detest the idea of coming into the office.

5. Always Have a Family-First Mentality

I mentioned this in a conversation I recently had with one of our Solutions Engineers, Matt Madden.

My dad is the reason behind my passion for family-first mentalities. When I was about 10-years-old, my dad got transferred to a different base in Florida that was close by (imagine air quotes here, I know this is a blog and you can’t see them, but they’re there). In reality, it was in Pensacola, an hour and a half away from home.

He discussed uprooting us and moving (again) but I didn’t want to, I begged him to let us stay. I had never lived anywhere else and I didn’t want to leave my friends. My dad made a HUGE sacrifice for us and commuted to and from Pensacola every single day. I’m extremely grateful that he did that for our family, and, to this day, I'm still friends with the kids I grew up with.

As a result, I'm a big advocate of family first. After back-to-back work trips, team members should be able to take the time to be with their families. I want my team to do what’s best for their families, as long as they give a heads up.

About the Author

Kevin O’Dell is the Chief Technology Officer at Stratifyd. When he’s not finding solutions to the hardest customer analytics problems enterprises face, you can find him wakeboarding or spending time with his family.

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