CEO of Mom & Dad’s Basement

In the summer of 2008 I was introduced to a woman who has helped support dramatic change with my thinking and behavior.  At the time of our introduction, I was the Managing Director for a Detroit based Talent Acquisition Company (fancy way of saying a recruiting company) and I was invited to take part in a session for our company’s future leaders. As we gathered for the meeting, I noticed a kind souled and eccentric person walking into our conference room. She appeared way too calm, peaceful is a better way to describe her demeanor, and she had a soft spoken tone, which forced each of us (about 20 employees) to sit forward in our chairs and really focus in on what she was discussing.

This woman talked to our group for the best part of two hours and we talked, heavily, about moving our thoughts from “Fear” to “Freedom”. She talked about the power of the ego, she talked about the lack of truth, transparency, trust and honest dialogue within Corporate America and although I was a bit skeptical at first, I was enthralled by the way she engaged our group. At the end of her session, my teammates looked at each other differently. We soon learned that 6 of us were selected to take part in 1:1 coaching with this woman and that’s where this story begins.

The woman I refer to is Kimberly Knapp. She’ll laugh and tell you to call her Kim, but I think Kimberly makes her sound way more distinguished. Kim has become a friend, she is a mentor and she has been my coach for 7 years. Kim has helped me shed my looming self-doubt, she has helped me embrace a deeper and more spiritual way of thinking through my life experiences and she has supported me on one of the most intense journeys I’ve ever taken.

Before I jump too far into our story, let me share a bit of my background.  I’m a 42 year-old father (of 3), husband (of 1- any more than 1 would thoroughly piss off my wife), son (of two very special parents), brother, brother-in-law, employee and the list goes on. Each of us has a number of roles we play in life and as life’s journey moves forward, the roles we play have a different level of intensity, don’t they?  When we are in our “youth”, we rely on the role our parents play in our journey. As we move on past high school, it’s the role of friend that seems to take the front seat. At some point, God willing, we find another to love and the role of husband or wife takes the “first chair” in our worlds and then it happens…we become parents.

It’s this role (parenting) that sparked my interest in writing this article. I’ve lived in metro Detroit for the bulk of my life and as my wife and I began parenting we changed. We found ourselves, as some parents do, totally consumed in the byproduct of our relationship (our kids). We made these little buggers with the love and passion we held for each other and once they joined the world, we shifted our attention from each other, directly to them (sometimes this has been a challenge, but I’ll get to that later). As so many parents do, we worked to ensure our three children experienced love and that they knew we were also going to be life educators on their journey. As my parenting responsibilities increased, as did my career.

Kim and I started our coaching relationship from a “career” perspective, but she quickly helped me see that the coaching I was receiving was applicable to all aspects of life and, in fact, it was the philosophy that was so applicable and as I was starting to embrace it (Freedom Based thought vs. Fear Based thought), I was able to cross coach my kids, with lessons learned for the board room.

Flash forward to 2015 and I am the Vice President of the Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) division of a $220m recruiting firm and I intend to be the division’s President by 2016. My career has become rooted in adding value to people’s lives (my employees, my clients, my family, etc.) and having fun while doing it. In our industry, we create corporate recruiting teams for our clients, so needless to say, my teams and I have been part of client organizations for the last 20 years who have helped put more than 200,000 people to work. I’ve interviewed, screened, strategized, hired, fired, promoted, coached and developed thousands of people, so when I told Kim that I was getting concerned about a trend I’m seeing in our country, she looked at me with a concern that I’ve never seen on her face before.

That concern is tied to an apathy I’ve detected from young professionals (ages 18-22). I’m seeing less power in the handshake, fewer and fewer thank you notes and the ones we receive are generally loaded with “text type”. I’m watching a level of entitlement relative to the compensation tied to “entry level” employment and have been recently told, by two young professionals, that they’d rather NOT work than have to start at the bottom of the ladder. As I articulate these concerns to Kim, she shared that she, too, is watching something similar.

Kim’s traditionally peaceful demeanor became very stoic and she asked me a set of questions that I won’t forget. “Would you be able to hire your kids, in 10 years’ time, Trav?” “My kids? I pushed back abruptly, “This isn’t about my kids, Kim, this is about the kids I’m seeing enter the workforce”. “Well”, she said, “They’ll be in this workforce soon enough and what are you doing to ensure that they will add the value that you constantly tout as one of your success factors?”

These questions have been bothering me for a few months and it was the question Kim asked that sparked me to transition my thoughts and actions to my own behaviors and to the support of my children’s behaviors.  I’d like to challenge each of you to reflect on those questions, too. Will your kids be employable? Are you focused on raising children who can shake hands (with confidence), who can write a letter or email with clarity, precision and intelligence? Are you raising your children to experience life and to take risks? Are you raising innovators? Are you raising problem solvers?

I ask you these questions because these are the questions that I’ll ask your children when they try to enter the workforce. I’ll ask them how they solve problems, I’ll expect a solid email thank you (with proper grammar and not those god damn emoticons and text type) and I’ll expect them to have answered my questions about the power of innovation, how they innovate, how they solve problems in a group setting and most importantly, they need to answer these questions to my face and not through a text message.

I ask you these questions because it seems, to me, that we are going to have a collision with the magnitude of two trains, loaded with steel, flying toward each other at 120 MPH and the end result isn’t going to be good. I have been guilty of raising my kids to be polite (which is important) and to be well behaved (another positive attribute), but I’ve also realized that I condoned too much technology, too little discussion at the dinner table (if at all, because of all the damn practices we run to) and you’ll get my point, I’m not focusing on the very things that can aid to a person’s success in the workplace. At what point do we shift our parenting to also include the celebration of mistakes (and embrace them as learnings), to play at the park on their own (so they learn to self-govern) and what was I doing to help them learn the power of succinct communication (person to person, not via text or email). Honestly, I don’t feel like I am doing enough.

I’ve asked these questions to provoke thought and challenge and I’ll be focused on these topics for the ensuing weeks, so we can have open dialogue and discussion, and so each of us can prevent raising the future CEO of Mom & Dad’s Basement.

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