Understandably, most parents want to ensure the best possible lives for their children. That desire is something that connects us all--across generations and cultures. However, somewhere along the way, this concept has become corrupted. Rather than simply providing opportunities, some highly successful parents have actually been trying to remove every obstacle from their children's paths.
This is a colossal mistake, and it certainly doesn't set anyone up for success.
The recent "Varsity Blues" college admissions scandal is the perfect example of this phenomenon. In this case, several wealthy parents were implicated in a scheme to bribe university coaches and officials to get their children into prestigious colleges. Parents paid top dollar to falsify SAT scores, invent athletic credentials and basically hack their kids' way into elite schools.
This is a deeply unethical extension of a type of helicopter parenting that is too common today. By cheating to get their children into college, those parents both revealed dishonest values and sent their kids the message that all that's needed to succeed in life is to attend a brand-name school. In many cases, they pushed their kids in the opposite direction from the path they themselves took to achievement.
Of course, it's hard for high achieving parents to watch their kids fail. But leaders who want their children to succeed long-term--in life or business--need to let them make and learn from their own mistakes. Here's why:
Failure is inevitable, and overcoming it is a skill
Failure is a part of life, especially in business. Success is impossible without chasing audacious goals, and even the most talented people can fail spectacularly on the path to eventual achievement. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in the 1980s. Bill Gates' first business was a bust. The same is true for nearly every visionary business leader.
But while everyone fails sometimes, not everybody handles failure well. It's a life skill that takes practice. One benefit of childhood is that kids can fail in situations where the stakes are low. Flunking a math test, losing a sports game or getting rejected from a dream college can feel crushing in the moment, but these setbacks aren't going to ruin anyone's life. They are very much first-world problems. Children need to be allowed to fail so that they can handle the inevitable adversity they'll face as adults, especially in the business world.
Hard work is necessary to any success
One of the most popular ideas that has emerged from Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success is the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to master any craft. I think we can all agree that even the most talented people work hard to reach the top.
Parents who give everything to their children and protect them from any adversity mean well, but they are preventing their kids from learning the value of hard work and reaping the rewards of mastery. Children whose parents have removed every obstacle will enter the real world with no idea of how to put in the effort needed to achieve.
Imagine if, instead of resorting to bribery, the parents in the recent admissions scandal had simply taught their kids to work hard and study to get into the school they wanted. A strong work ethic, combined with the resources at the parents' disposal for things like tutoring, could have gotten their kids into top schools organically. Along the way, those children would have learned the necessity of dedicating effort to a goal and achieving it honestly.
Self-reliance is essential
In college, I wanted to get into management consulting. Many of my classmates were able to leverage family connections to get prestigious jobs, but I didn't have those advantages. Instead of lamenting my lack of a shortcut, I applied to hundreds of jobs. Eventually, I landed one through sheer perseverance.
So much of what I've achieved as a CEO comes from experiences like this. Handling things on my own wasn't always fun, but I gained so much confidence every time I took a step up the ladder. When a child sees a parent doing something for them that they could potentially do for themselves, they get a terrible underlying message: "I don't think you can do it." That is disempowering.
The last thing any parent wants is to see his or her child fail or suffer. But that empathetic instinct can hurt children in the long run. The reality is that to be successful, people need to learn to work hard, rely on their abilities and cope with failure. And childhood is the best time to learn those things in a safe environment.
Removing every obstacle for your children is a mistake. Instead, be there to help them overcome obstacles themselves--and celebrate with them when they do.