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General Can Successful Executives Raise High Performing Children?


Jun 1, 2004
Can successful executives raise high performing children? Ganesh Chella

Corporate India's executives wonder if they will succeed in raising their children to be as high performing as them and display it in their academic and career pursuits. Some even worry if their success and affluence has blunted their children's ability to become high performers. It is worth examining if there is any truth in this apprehension and anxiety. Many young children demonstrate an outstanding sense of responsibility. I think the ingredients are already there and only need to be kindled by parents.

We are bang in the middle of Q4 and many of Corporate India's executives are all set to turn in another year of brilliant results, thanks to their hard work and some significant sacrifices.
Amidst such a high, I can see some of these executives beginning to wonder if they will succeed in raising their children to be as high performing as them and display it in their academic and career pursuits. In fact, some even begin to wonder if their success and affluence have blunted their children's ability to become high performers.
Given India's growing tribe of successful and affluent executives, it is worth examining whether there is any truth in this apprehension and anxiety.
The ingredients that made these parents high achievers and successful may not work for their children.
(I am defining high performing children as those that do well in school and college, have a clear goal of what they would like to accomplish and are able to achieve it, or are on the road to achieving it, on their own.)
What made the executives successful in the first place?
Economic necessities
Many of today's successful executives and business leaders had extremely humble or difficult beginnings. Many had a foundation of strong middle-class values characterised by the need for high social respectability and material wealth and a strong emphasis on family and education. This necessity to come up in life created the motivating environment for them to aspire and achieve success.
Dreaming about the future and creating it
A lot of research suggests that success in life is more a function of the child's positive image of the future and not a function of his or her IQ.
Many of today's successful executives grew up with great dreams of accomplishment and were, therefore, propelled to work towards achieving it.
A sense of duty
Given the strong foundation of traditional family values, achieving success in their childhood was also seen as their duty towards their parents and as something they had to do to in return for their parents' sacrifice and efforts. This sense of duty was a strong motivator.
These three key ingredients contributed to creating many of today's high performing and successful executives.
Today's roadblocks to raising high-performing children
Pressure under a controlled environment
Many would disagree with me and argue that today's children are under far greater pressure to achieve and perform. I see it differently. I would like to differentiate between the real difficult circumstances of the past and the "pressure under a controlled environment" of the present.
The children of successful executives do have to perform and work hard but have the benefit of a very structured and controlled environment. Given where they are, they get a clear head-start in the race. They have access to the best support systems in the form of schools, tuition classes, instructors and world-class infrastructure. They are merely expected to use all of this to achieve well-defined milestones. They do know that risk mitigation has been planned for!
Access to social and cultural capital
In their article titled The Meritocracy Myth, Stephen J. McNamee & Robert K. Miller, Jr. argue that inheritance gives children the access to both social and cultural capital. They define social capital as one's "social resources" or whom you know.
They define cultural capital as one's "cultural resources" or the bodies of knowledge and information needed to navigate through social space including expected demeanour, manners, and so on which helps them to "fit in" anywhere well.
For many of these fortune children, social and cultural capital comes on a platter with little struggle. If these children are indeed successful, it is either because their parents have redefined success for them or these children have been born with an inherent drive to excel and do well.
I must admit that we do find ample evidence of such children around us. There is not enough evidence to confirm if this is the exception or the rule.
New coping strategies
India will see significant economic progress in the coming years and many Indians will rightfully benefit from this progress. The ingredients of their success may, however, not hold relevance to their children. They will need to look for new ways of instilling that same drive for achievement.
How can this happen?
While children may not understand the blind duty-bound behaviour of the past, it is important to inculcate in them the sense of responsibility — towards oneself, one's family and one's community. I can see many young children demonstrating an outstanding sense of responsibility in what they do and how they do it. I think the ingredients are already there and only needs to be kindled by parents.
Parents also need to redefine their roles as coaches. They need to engage in conversations that inspire, challenge and shape behaviour. These conversations must focus on giving the children a new higher purpose in their lives and propel them to work towards it.
Most importantly, the conversations need to go beyond mere achievement and must focus on building strong character.
While corporates are busy focusing on corporate social responsibility (CSR), it might be time for the executives of these corporates to also start focusing on individual family responsibility (IFR). After all, it may not give you a good feeling if you are rated an A at work but end up with a D at home!
(The author is the founder and CEO of totus consulting. totus consulting is a strategic HR Consulting firm that designs and implements HR systems and processes for Organisations across diverse industries. He can be reached at ganesh@totusconsulting.com)


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