Parents are not as significant as they think

I’m not sure if this will be good news or bad, but moms and dads don’t make as much difference in their children’s lives as we probably thought. There is a new, very interesting book out by Michael Lindsay, Ph.D. titled View From the Top. My husband, Jim, was honored to moderate a discussion on the book with the author and Myron (Mike) Ullman, III recently. The evening was hosted by Dallas Baptist University and it was a fascinating discussion. The book is an inside look at significant people around the world and the key factors that caused them to rise to positions of power and influence.

The subject matter was compelling, but the idea I found most surprising was the finding that, “it doesn’t really matter what future leaders do before they’re 20” (pg. xv). My first thought was that I had heard incorrectly. “Surely parents are the strongest influence in a person’s life,” I thought. I thought wrong. In fact, a lot of the things I thought were most important in a child’s life, might not be as significant as I thought.

Jim and I were always careful when we bought a home to check out the schools first. I thought that a child needs a great education to succeed. Don’t get me wrong, I would still argue that a great education is very important – but it does not matter as much as I thought.

We enjoyed having dinner with Michael Lindsay and Mike Ullman before the program. We have known Michael and his family for many years, but I didn’t know Mr. Ullman at all before that night. I hope you have a chance to read his bio. He is an amazing human being with a long list of significant contributions. Imagine my surprise when he mentioned he doesn’t read. Mr. Ullman is dyslexic. His elementary school teacher told his parents that he would never go to college. He said he was simply put in charge of advancing the slides on the slide machine and was, therefore, promoted through elementary school each year.

Mike Ullman is the CEO of J.C. Penney, having just recently returned to that position. He was rehired by the company with the hope that his leadership will, once again, help the retail chain to be profitable. The company’s reputation had floundered under the previous leadership. Mr. Ullman said that he came back to the company because he loved the people who worked there, and they deserved a chance to make the store great again. After meeting Mr. Ullman, I may not shop anywhere else! He was one of the most humble, quiet, interesting and brilliant people I have ever met. His accomplishments are great, but what I found most impressive was that his character was godly.

Michael Lindsay said that of all the people he interviewed, the person that stood out the most to him was Mike Ullman. And Mr. Ullman’s teacher said he would never go to college. That is the subject of this blog post. How does a person struggling with dyslexia, and most recently with a muscular disease that makes it difficult to even walk, achieve the highest levels of leadership?

The findings in this book were fascinating and I think very important for parents to understand, and take to heart. Deep down, we know the things that matter most – but do we parent according to those deep-seated values?

Here are a few interesting statistics that I took from Jim’s book review on View From the Top.

  • All leaders begin with potential and opportunity, but it doesn’t really matter what future leaders do before they are 20.
  • A privileged childhood is actually a poor indicator of becoming a senior leader. Only 9% of the leaders interviewed in the book identified themselves as coming from privilege.
  • 59% of the study participants came from the middle class.
  • Most of the leaders came from homes with two loving parents.
  • Nearly two-thirds attended schools that are not considered elite institutions.
  • Character, passion and perseverance are the keys to success, not status before adulthood.

Quite a bit of time was spent discussing these findings. There are a lot of things we do as parents because we have believed they would be significant to our children’s success in life. We tell our children that their grades matter so that they will be able to get into a top school. Is that really true? Most of the world’s powerful leaders didn’t graduate from those schools. In fact, the better opportunity for a person’s success is that a person of great influence invests in your child’s life and guides them, after the age of 20. Many of the elite institutions have classes so large that a professor never even learns your child’s name, let alone spends time investing in their future.

According to Michael Lindsay’s results, our most important job as a parent is to maintain a strong family unit, teach our children to have character and integrity, to work hard and be fair, and to pursue their God-given passion in life…pursue their calling. I used to teach my children that the goal of life was to find favor with God and find favor with men, then the rest of life would successfully follow.  (Proverbs 3:4)  I wish I had worried a lot less about the things that, in the end, didn’t matter very much.

I will pray differently for my children now.  I will pray that God brings strong, godly influence into their lives through other people.  The most important people in their lives right now are probably people I won’t know well – but who could change the course of their lives forever.  Who will influence your children or grandchildren when they are 20-40 years of age?  Pray about that today, and parent in such a way that your child is successful at the age of 50.  “15” doesn’t matter as much as you think.


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