They’re Watching You

Picture of a businesswoman seated in an office chair with her hands behind he head.  “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it for a parent or a leader.

At the start of my career, I worked in an applied research group at Brown University. Our director frequently travelled to raise funding, always sharing great stories when he got back. Once, on a visit Microsoft, he attended a meeting where everyone leaned back from the conference room table, folding their hands behind their heads. It was a bit odd. Afterwards, he asked his host why everyone sat like that, and the answer was that Bill Gates (who was still the CEO at the time) tended to sit that way. Other Microsoft employees, without realizing it, mimicked his behavior.

Years later, I retold this story to a co-worker who had started cutting people off in meetings. As I gave him feedback about it, I told him that his team was starting to do the same thing. I then shared the Microsoft story with him to illustrate how easily habits can rub off on people. I asked him, “How are you going to feel if your entire team starts acting like you in meetings?” It was an “aha” moment for him. He saw the impact he could have in shaping the culture of our meetings, and he wanted them to be inclusive, not antagonistic.

My husband and I have noticed that our teens are picking up our habits. Most I’m thrilled with — things like manners, healthy eating, and a strong work ethic. But, then there are ones I’m embarrassed to admit. Like retreating to different rooms to watch TV shows streamed to individual tablet computers, our earbuds providing an even greater level of disconnect from the rest of the family. Like being overly competitive when playing board games.

It can be overwhelming to realize that employees and kids could be watching your every move, and consciously or sub-concisously deciding to mimic you. If they respect you, they’re going to pick up some of your habits. You need to be a good role model, 24×7. After all, “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it for a parent or a leader.

I’m looking for ideas for how to handle situations when people pick up your bad habits. If you have advice, please share it in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit:

My “Lean In” Checklist

Lean In Book cover
There’s hype, there’s controversy. Personally, I’m ready to be part of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement! Are you interested as well? Here are some things you can do to participate today:

  • Pre-order a copy of “Lean In” from Amazon or your favorite bookseller.
  • Clear your calendar for March 11, when your book will arrive. You know you will want to read it right away.
  • Join the movement. Enter your email address at
  • Show your friends that you are leaning in by liking the Lean In Facebook page.
  • Contribute to the professional conversation by joining the Lean In LinkedIn group.
  • Tweet with the hashtag #leaningin.
  • Share your personal story of a time you chose between fear and leaning in. Post it on the Lean In site.

My next steps, once I read the book:

  • Write about the intersection (or perhaps collision?!) of parenting and leaning-in.
  • Start or join a lean-in circle.

What ideas do you have for contributing to this movement? I’d like to hear from you!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Response to “Career lessons from Gen-Y”

Yesterday, I read an article published in CNN Money: Career lessons from Gen-Y by Ali Velshi. As I went about the rest of my day, I found myself thinking about one of the lessons in particular:

“Consult your elders. Millennials like, lean on, and trust their parents. A lot. Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds, who handles Marine recruiting, showed me a new poster that targets parents, not their children.”

As a parent, I’m thrilled to think that my children will continue to seek my advice as they leave home and enter their careers. And, it got me thinking about the importance of mentors. While my husband and I both have lots of wisdom to share with our kids, we won’t necessarily have specific guidance if our kids choose careers different from ours. They will need to develop relationships with other elders, not just us, to get the best advice.

What will I tell my kids as they start their careers? While parents often know best, you need to find mentors, value their experience, and listen to their recommendations. Mentors will be critical to your success.

I just hope they listen to me!


© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

What did the parents do right?

When I meet someone who really has their act together, I often wonder what their childhood must have been like, what their parents must have done right.

This fall, I wrote letters of recommendation for one such person, a former employee, who is applying to some of the top business schools in the US. In addition to answering specific questions about the candidate, I was asked to check off skills and qualities from a large grid of leadership qualities. As I read over the grid, I started wondering how a parent raises a child who can get into these schools, a child who:

  • “Is respectful to all and generous with praise; ensures other opinions are heard.”
  • “Is reliable and authentic even at some personal cost; works to ensure all members of the organization operate with integrity.”
  • “Brings others together across boundaries to achieve results and share best practices.”
  • “Inspires and motivates others to develop by providing feedback and identifying new growth opportunities as well as supporting their efforts to change.”
  • and the list keeps going

There is no simple answer, but I bet his parents must have been strong role models of all of these qualities.

If you are a parent, or if children are an important part of your life, how do you help them develop leadership qualities? Did you have a leadership role model growing up? I’d like to hear from you!


© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.