The true goal of leadership and parenting

Picture of an empty bird's nestMy husband and I have had a few practice runs at empty-nesting. Stretches in the summer when our kids visited my family on the East Coast, and my husband and I stayed in California for our jobs. While we missed our children a lot, we have to admit it was a nice change. No milk in the fridge? No worries. Decide to go on a date night at the last minute? Sure! Life without our kids around for a few weeks had its benefits.

As we look ahead to empty-nesting for real, we hope that our children are prepared for life, are set up for success in whatever they choose to do, and are happy. Isn’t this the true goal for any parent?

Making them successful and happy is also the true goal for any leader. It’s our responsibility to ensure that our employees are successful in their careers, guiding them to deliver on business needs while learning new skills to stay relevant and grow their careers. We want them to be happy and engaged with what they are doing so they can do their best work.

Often, the challenge is identifying the next skill someone needs to master. Because everyone is unique and there are external factors to consider, there’s no playbook to follow. Once you’ve taught your kids to do their laundry, is cooking next? Or financial literacy? What’s going to best meet personal and family needs? With employees, do they next need to learn a technical skill or a management skill? And what skill will best serve your company’s objectives?

My advice? Set aside time on a regular basis to reflect on how you’re going to meet the true goal. And look ahead to empty-nesting, whether that means having your children become independent and move out of your home, or delegating areas of responsibility to your team so that you have bandwidth to learn new things yourself.


© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

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The $100 Test

Each week, Startup Edition poses a single question to a group of bloggers from the startup community. This week’s question is “How do you discover what people really want?” My answer? Use the $100 test, whether you’re creating software or planning activities with your family. 

Picture of a Hundred Dollar Bill
Image courtesy of nuchylee /

Every software development team has a long list of features they want to build into their product. At the same time, they are constrained by how much time or money they can spend writing and testing the code. To meet most of their customers’ needs, they end up identifying a “minimal viable product” of the most important features.

When I worked on the Dreamweaver team back in the late 1990s, we used a technique called the “$100 test” to help us prioritize our backlog of feature ideas into an MVP. Here’s how it worked: we gave the members of our customer advisory board an imaginary stack of 100 dollar bills and asked them to spend their money on the list of features we were considering. They could spend all $100 on one feature that they were passionate about, or $50 on two features, or any dollar amount on any number of features. They could even put their money toward new features. Any combination was fine, as long as it added up to $100 and represented what they wanted to see in the next release of Dreamweaver.

Today, many software teams use this test, or something similar, to discover what their customers want. I’ve also seen it used in brainstorming sessions to prioritize ideas that merit further investigation. It’s an effective way for a group to prioritize things when they have more ideas than their resources can support.

Does the $100 test have a role to play in parenting? I think it can! Let’s look at my family as an example.

My family consists of my husband, our two teens, and myself.

Do we want to do more than we can given our free time and our budget? Always.

Do we have an effective approach to prioritize things? Not really. After consulting with everyone, I make most of the decisions. While efficient, it’s not exactly effective, and I often feel burdened by it.

Coincidentally, we have a vacation coming up, and we haven’t yet decided what to do each day. I think we need a family brainstorming session to come up with loads of ideas, and then use the $100 test to figure out what activities we’ll do. It will be a great way to discover what we really want and to get everyone engaged and excited about the vacation.

What do you think of the $100 test? Have you used it outside of product development to discover what people want? Please leave a comment; I’d like to hear from you.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

NOTE: This post is part of Startup Edition, weekly wisdom from founders, hackers, and designers who answer a single question each week. Click here to see other answers to this week’s question: “How do you discover what people really want?”

Setting aside time to think

Photo of woman creating a frame with her hands to see through When I led a team of program managers at a software company, I’d ask new employees to set aside time every week to step back from their to-do lists. I’d encourage them to reflect on what went well, as well as what they might be forgetting to do, what contingencies they should plan for, and what they might want to do differently. These program managers were responsible for so much detail that it was all too easy to lose sight of the larger picture. By taking time to think about how they were doing their jobs, they created the mental space they needed to be effective.

I hadn’t thought of that advice in years, yet it came flooding back to me as I caught up with a old friend last week. Valerie and I hadn’t seen much of each other since starting our families, and it was great spending time with her again. As we shared stories about our kids and our busy lives, we also discussed how important it is to step back and think about our larger goals as parents. What values do we want our children to learn, and how are we going to teach them?

To answer these questions, we need mental space. By ourselves or with our partners, we need to step back, noodle on things, and have discussions. Just like my team of program managers, we need to reflect on what we’ve already accomplished and think about what we want to change moving forward.

Yet, for busy parents or busy professionals, it’s challenging to set aside time to think and plan. Here are some strategies my friends use, for home or for work:

  • My husband and I have dinner together–with candlelight–almost every night. The meal may not be fancy, but the candlelight seems to get us out of our ordinary mind-set and make space for taking stock, or just staying caught up.
  • I schedule time on my calendar to reflect. Thirty minutes per week is what I need.
  • I go for walks with friends. Just hearing what is on someone else’s mind often gets me out of my own head and helps me look at parenting from a different perspective. If I’m with a mom who has kids older than mine, I get a heads-up on what to look out for as the kids move toward the next developmental stage. Or, I become aware of the importance of something I hadn’t really thought about before.
  • I force myself out of my comfort zone by going on vacation where the lifestyle is different and much slower. I slow down and think for a change instead of spending all my time “doing.”
  • With my children, I use report cards to chart a course, identifying what went well (and should continue as a habit) and discussing how to apply those approaches to classes that didn’t go so well.

If you set aside time to think on a regular basis, please share your strategies or what you’ve learned from doing so in a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

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