8 Leadership and Parenting Lessons from Agent Phil Coulson
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Leadership is a hobby and lifestyle to me. It’s what I loved about being an Army officer, and I love that the principles translate to being a dad.
I’ve been a dad for a little over two years, but I have over a decade of formal and personal leadership training. Leaning on my war proven principles helps me stay grounded when things get stressful. And with a toddler and newborn, sometimes it feels like war.
I was pleasantly surprised when I started watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and saw Agent Phil Coulson embodying great leadership principles. Even though he’s fictitious, I wanted to share some observations I made since I think these easily carry over to being a dad.
- Always see the best in people. This is obvious from the first episode. Whenever given the chance, he looks for the best in people – even when the knee-jerk reaction would be to write them off. If you’re not focusing on the best in people, you’ll treat them as the worst version of themselves. And that’s what you’ll get back from them.
- Foster commitment over compliance. This is a big one for me, and it drastically changes how you handle situations. It’s clear in how Phil Coulson interacts with his team that he’s most interested in commitment, it’s what he asks. Someone that’s committed is an invaluable asset to you and will also grow as a person. Someone coerced into compliance will at best do the minimum, and at worst build resentment and be waiting for the opportunity to sabotage you.
- Use anger judiciously. There’s a time and place for everything, anger included, it’s a part of being human. If anger controls you then it becomes toxic to you. But, used in small and considered doses, it’s a powerful motivator.
- Follow your conscience. The way this is demonstrated is essential to any good story, by breaking the rules. There’s a balance between forsaking all rules and obsessing over the result, and worshiping the rules at the sake of the intent. It seems he uses his conscience to find the balance, settling dilemmas by taking the choice he can sleep with.
- Be honest. This one I like about Phil Coulson because the writers made him struggle with it, gave him some humanity. He doesn’t struggle with integrity, but with disclosure. He’s always wrestling with how much to tell someone, especially if the information may be hurtful. But so far he always ends up telling all.
- Push people to be their best selves and do their best work. There’s a part of human nature that often inclines people to only do the minimum, and it’s dangerous. This is a delicate one though. It’s pushing someone through their fear or funk while building them up as a person, not demeaning them. It’s about being a coach and mentor, not a bully.
- Know your business, know your role. In the show Phil Coulson often refers back to why S.H.I.E.L.D. exists and his role in it. Decide what it means to you to be part of a family, and what your role in your family as a partner and father is. It’s a good cornerstone to have for reference.
- Be willing to do any job. Nothing is a turn off quite like being expected to do something someone else won’t. If you really want to be respected and set an example, prove you’re willing to do whatever needs to be done – by getting your own hands dirty.
To me, applying principles like these as a parent is even more rewarding than just adopting them as a leader in an organization. Because as a parent, I know that I’m not just doing better by them, I’m also giving them a better role model.