How to parent like an entrepreneur

  • Experiential education expert and entrepreneur Jim Sheils developed a simple three-step plan to help parents form stronger bonds with their kids.
  • Jim’s method targets entrepreneurs but will work for any parent.
  • Since there is no substitute for quality time, set up quarterly “board meetings” with your child—four uninterrupted hours—using three steps: 1. One on one, 2. No electronics, 3. Do a fun activity of the child’s choosing and make time for focused reflection
  • Jim’s breakthrough with his own son, as well as heartfelt testimonials from other parents, are proof points.
The Entrepreneur’s Parent Trap

Running a business and raising a child share some key traits. Both are all-consuming lifestyle changes. Both require sacrifices that are selfless, yet incredibly fulfilling. And both bring unique kinds of love that benefit from a bit of strategy. 

Most MMT members are entrepreneurs and parents, including Jim Sheils, education expert and author of The Family Board Meeting. Having coached families and business leaders to build deeper relationships over more than 15 years, he noticed a common problem for people in both camps. Entrepreneurs can fall into a parenting trap. 

Striving for flexibility and financial security—time and resources meant to be devoted to family—business owners also endure demanding schedules and greater responsibilities that might have the opposite effect. 

“It can often come at the cost of building a meaningful relationship with children,” Jim said, “resulting in feelings of guilt, depression, and a disconnect.” To help clients—and himself—he used a business strategy for a family challenge. Now, his three-step plan to help bridge the gap between entrepreneurs and their kids has been tested by parents around the world. 

In an exclusive session for MMT members, Jim outlined his secret to creating a safe space where children can open up. Jim promised parents: You will be the person your kid comes to for help and advice—before the Internet. (Yes, even teenagers). Although the plan was designed for entrepreneurs, any parent can do it. 

Education expert Jim Sheils at MMT Park City in 2018
Board Meetings: No Ocean Required

Years ago, on a retreat with business partners who also happened to be surfers, Jim Sheils had his first “board meeting.” It was part surf trip, part mastermind session, and it fortified more than just business relationships. When Jim’s typically reserved Irish father started joining him on these surf trips, their bond strengthened, even later in life—Jim’s dad was 76 at the time.

He realized that other families, especially entrepreneur-parents, would benefit from these focused sessions. “There is no substitute for quality time,” Jim said.

Once a quarter, he encourages parents to schedule “board meetings.” Devote the same time and attention—with the same consistency—as you do for your company’s vision planning. Meetings should last at least four hours, uninterrupted, and follow three steps: 

One on one

Spend time alone with one child, without spouses or siblings. Research suggests that children who spend more quality time with parents and caregivers do better developmentally. At least one child psychologist has written about the benefits of one-on-one time specifically. 

Individual attention deepens your relationship, and it helps the family dynamic. Jim likens this to a baseball team, whose pitcher, infield and outfield practice independently, then come together: “You have to separate the parts to better the whole.” 

No electronics 

This applies to both parents and children. Disconnecting will help you focus on each other. Jim cites Dr. Ned Hallowell, child psychiatrist and world-renowned expert in ADHD, as an advocate of unplugging, especially for neurodiverse children. Hallowell has authored a whole series of books on the detriments of distraction. 

Fun activity and focused reflection 

Interactive learning (the activity) combined with focused reflection (open communication) are the foundations of experiential education, a method for developing skills and clarifying values. 

Let your child lead. Encourage kids to pick something they want to try—an outing to the park or a fishing trip—instead of parents imposing hobbies. Afterwards, leave time for open questions such as, what was your favorite part of the day and why? 

“I’ve seen it change lives.”

Though it seems simple, carving out consistent time and space for kids has helped Jim’s clients, and his own son, discuss feelings and even overcome fears. 

Jim’s story

“When my youngest was six, he wanted to go to the water slides for our board meeting. He was terrified of the slides, but I agreed to go—kids choose the activity. We both went up the slide, and he wouldn’t go down. So I went down by myself. Eventually, he worked up the courage to go down too, and was very proud of himself. For our focused reflection, we sat on a nearby beach, and I asked him his favorite part of the day—he said it was going down the slide. We had an incredible conversation about the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone and getting over your fears.” 

More stories from MMT parents

At MMT, we take a holistic view of entrepreneurship. Some of our sessions will help you do business better. Others are designed to help you become better parents, partners, mentors and leaders. 

Members can access this session and more at MMT Library.

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