What Would You Tell Your Children?©

A reality of life and business is that we must make decisions – every day, big and small decisions determine our outcomes. With this reality in mind, we are constantly seeking methods, strategies and tactics for making better decisions to improve our outcomes. For all of this wisdom, there’s one approach that I’ve never seen mentioned in any business or leadership book, but it’s one that I regularly use to make decisions (especially the more important ones): What would you tell your children?

Simple, right? Assess the situation and determine what advice you would give your children if they were facing the same decision. I’ve found that this approach gives me some profound and impactful perspectives for my decision, even if they’re not easy to take. What’s interesting to me is how often people don’t want to take the same advice that they’d give their children, for no better reason than that they don’t like the advice.

One area where this approach is often invoked and valuable is with career or job decisions. I regularly talk to people who are bored, unhappy or even miserable in their job, yet they are choosing to remain (often claiming that they have no choice) with a long list of reasons for staying put. However, when I ask them what they would tell your children if they were in the same situation, the answer is nearly always “I’d tell them that life is short and they should not stay in a job where they are unhappy.” Why – because they want the best for their children. At the same time, these same people often choose to ignore the advice that they’d give their children and they stay in the unfulfilling (or worse) job.

The beauty of this approach is that it takes the choice or decision outside of your own experience and helps you to see things from the perspective that is most committed to offering the best advice – for the benefit of your children. When I make decisions for myself, it’s easy to rationalize. It’s a lot more difficult to rationalize when I’m contemplating advice for my children.

I was recently with a friend of mine who was struggling with a decision on which direction to take with a product in his business. I offered the question “What would you tell your children to do?” if they were facing this question, and he jokingly said: “Now why would you do that to me?” (meaning that this approach would force him either to take the same advice or to ignore it without any good reason). Similarly, I often suggest to people that they consider the “What would you tell your children?” question, only to have them say “that’s a good question,” but still not follow the advice.

Isn’t it interesting that we love giving our children advice, yet we don’t want to follow that advice when it’s applied to us? Certainly, there may be rare times when the situation is somehow different, but that doesn’t apply very often (especially when the question is framed as “What would you tell your children if they were facing the exact same situation?”).

This same approach can be applied to assess virtually every choice you make, every action you take and every habit you have. Think about this eye opener – imagine some things that you’ve done or said over the past week and ask yourself how you’d feel if you knew your children were watching and listening. Is what you say and believe aligning with your actions? Is what you tell (or would tell) your children consistent with your own behavior? If not, why not and what are you prepared to do to get into alignment?

What decision are you facing today? What choices are you making today? Invoke the “What would you tell your children?” approach and be prepared to follow your own advice. If you’re not willing to follow your own advice, then be honest about it and admit to yourself that you are taking action or making choices inconsistent with the advice you would give your children. This self-awareness and truth telling will at least make it more difficult for you to ignore the wise counsel that you would give your own children. And if you really want to take this approach deeper, if you choose not to follow the advice you would give your children, then answer for yourself this question – how would you explain your decision to your children?.

If you haven’t already figured it out, it’s pretty much impossible to get around the question of “What would you tell your children?” and that’s why it’s so powerful. If you want the best for your children, then you should want the best for yourself. Embracing this approach will give you more clarity in your choices and decisions, resulting in a dramatic and positive shift in your outcomes.

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