What did my children teach me about life, business, and innovation?

What did my children teach me about life, business, and innovation?

Ahmed Abukhater, CIO - Chief Innovation Office Boeing
Ahmed Abukhater,  CIO - Chief Innovation Office Boeing

Ahmed Abukhater, CIO - Chief Innovation Office Boeing

I never thought I would have an Autistic child, much less three. For parents with a child with Autism, having three children on the spectrum is unimaginable. Nothing prepared me for the news or the daily challenges that my sons would face in all aspects of life. From eating to sleeping to even interacting with others in public and at school – these are just small examples of the many cognitive and physical challenges they face. Having the honor to live with and get to know my three boys up-close, I’ve come to realize that unlike the conventional wisdom, our journey together is the reason for my happiness. And that this journey has been an opportunity for me to learn about myself as much as I learn about them, as they try to overcome their difficulties to grow and blossom into who they are today – beautifully Autistic, fully capable and amazingly inspiring three little boys.

As it turns out, my children are my biggest inspiration. They have opened my eyes to my own capacity, my own level of patience. They have made me realize things about how I see the world and myself. Learning more about how my children think and communicate really helped me become a better communicator and leader. They taught me the most valuable lessons in life that are foundational in my career. Here are some of the lessons that I learned and would like to share with you:

1-    Do not take anything for granted. Remember your purpose in life - you are here because you have a stentorian call to do amazing things. Find your way and focus on what you can change and get done. If you are given an opportunity, do not waste it by doing mediocre things. Aim to do great things despite your limited resources, do your best, and hope for the best. You’d be surprised - it often works out.

2-    Be mindful of your limitations as you leverage your strengths to your advantage. Another important lesson is to know your weaknesses (your own scotomasor blind spots) – everyone has them. You can use your weaknesses to your advantage by turning them into strength with practice and persistence. This is a crucial element in building a differentiating capability that is unmatched anywhere else. If you fail – try again. Believe in yourself and your purpose and build a team of believers as well. Because of their conducive environment and support system that surrounds them, my children continue to surprise me with what and how they learn and grow every day. Creating a support system around you with likeminded people that share the same interests and passions can help in keeping the synergy alive while keeping you focused on what matters. Surrounding yourself with positive people who believe in you is pivotal to achieving success and greatness.

3-    Change is inevitable and in many cases desirable if it leads to better results. I learned that things don't always go as planned so you have to be resilient in times of change and hardship to be able to not only survive but also thrive with limited resources. You need to exemplify the best qualities for you to perform at your best and for others to learn from and admire. Being resilient and resourceful are key lessons I apply in creating a business that can do more with less and can be innovate in times of uncertainty and great market fluctuation. A resilient and nimble business is a viable and sustainable one. Without resiliency and the ability to disrupt your business with new innovation before being disrupted, it would be a matter of time before someone else comes along and makes you irrelevant.

4-     Giving up is not an option when too much is at stake. My children excelled in everything they tried because of their incredible discipline and persistence. Hard work and patience does pay off and incremental progress can often lead to significant breakthroughs. It might take years for an idea or a business to succeed, but it takes daily hard work. So it is important to ask yourselves where you would like to be in the next few years, but most importantly what you will be doing this afternoon to make that happen. That’s the one area that many people do not pay enough attention to. In our business, it takes obsessive, maniacal focus on the target, the purpose and the customer to get things moving, and keep them moving. Interestingly, people do not often fail because they are not well-trained or because they lack skills. It is often the case that people and organizations fail because they lack the discipline to stand up and try again after experiencing failures.

5-   Use failure as an advantage by turning it into an opportunity to learn and grow. While failing is a difficult fact of life, it can be the key to your success. It is important to keep your sight on the target while managing to put one foot in front of the other inching closer and closer towards that finish line. This is how great organizations maintain their competitive advantage and how successful people get things accomplished with seemingly flawless outcomes. People who are afraid of failure tend to gravitate towards their comfort zone by taking the “easy shot” because of the appeal of its predictability and the assurance that they will succeed. In the process of doing so, they miss out on achieving their real potential and greatness in life and career. Greatness can never be achieved within your comfort zone. People who are able to overcome their fear of failure and push the limit of what’s possible are the ones capable of realizing their potential and making great things happen. This is easier said than done of course! It takes discipline, dedication, and practice.

6-     Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This great philosophy in communications made it easy for me to clarify things with my teams and make sure there are bidirectional channels of communications to ensure openness and transparency. And because people communicate differently, they also should be communicated to differently depending on their style and abilities. Knowing people’s preferred commutation style helps in getting your message faster and clearer.

7-     Finally I learned that everyone is a hero. There is a hero inside all of us – that wants to help, inspire, lead, and change the world. It is important to accept and advocate for others around us. This is the first step towards getting them engaged. As leaders we have a duty to enable people to unleash their inner hero – to set the stage for them to perform on and shine. With that in mind, innovation leadership is different than the traditional leadership in the sense that you are a leader of leaders. You enable your team to do great things by providing three important things: direction, protection and reward. Yes, create a strategy, but more importantly provide a purpose and guardrails. Knowing what makes people tick makes it easy for you to get them excited about your direction so you can rally the team behind a common purpose. Show them what great looks like and they will follow you. Then give your team a lot of room to be innovative and do great things – they will amaze you! This is how you can inspire action, lead change, and make a difference.

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