From heroes to mentors: the role of fathers in achieving professional success

In the past, leaders like A.P.J  Abdul Kalam and Indra Nooyi have highlighted the key role of fathers in shaping personal and professional lives.
In the past, leaders like A.P.J Abdul Kalam and Indra Nooyi have highlighted the key role of fathers in shaping personal and professional lives.

Summary

Fathers as pillars of success, the stories behind Indra Nooyi, R.K, A.P.J Abdul Kalam and more.

Every child’s first hero is likely to be their dad. As Australian poet Pam Brown rightly says, “Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, storytellers, and singers of song."

The acknowledgments are plenty whenever someone ruminates on the role of a father in their success. Of course, mothers are also darned good at doing all of this—keeping the fire of ambition going alongside the one at home, and may even outscore dads—but fathers do play a special role in shaping a person’s career. Dads play a key role as influencers, role models and fosterers of ambition in the journey of many a successful individual. Along the way, they also make their fair share of sacrifices. 

Famous father influencers

Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, has in her speeches, interviews and posts attributed much of her success to her father, who was a bank official in India. It is he who instilled in her the values of hard work, perseverance and integrity, which guided her throughout her career. Nooyi often speaks about her father's influence on her leadership style and decision-making, crediting him as her inspiration.

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R.K. Laxman, the legendary cartoonist and creator of the iconic Common Man, was not only a creative genius but also “a wise and insightful father", his son, Srinivas Laxman, says, fondly recalling his father’s guidance that shaped his own career as a writer, instilling in him a passion for storytelling. Laxman shared valuable insights about the power of satire, inspiring Srinivas to hone his craft as a writer. 

Former President and space scientist Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was also deeply influenced by his father, Jainulabdeen, who placed emphasis on education and moral values. Kalam’s journey from distributing newspapers to contributing to India’s defence programmes showcases the immense role of his father, from his early years.

The many generations of young men and women who join the Armed Forces, following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers, exemplify the influence of a dad. It’s not just a career they embrace but a way of life itself, living and often poignantly dying like their forbears. 

More recently, young chess grandmaster Gukesh Dommaraju’s coach has spoken of the sacrifice made by his father Dr. D. Rajinikanth. An ENT surgeon, Rajinikanth stopped practicing in 2017-18 to focus on his son’s burgeoning chess career, accompanying his son across the world for his tournaments.

My own father played many roles. He modelled professional work ethic, hard work and perseverance for me—values that I believe are best imbued in childhood. He fostered ambition, always telling me to strive for the top. At every turn in my student life and career, it was he who urged me on to choose the tougher, less trodden path. During the college union elections, I had decided to settle for the vice-president’s post. He encouraged me to aim higher—for the president’s post—to make my mark in the college annals. From that point on, there was no turning back for me—whether it was career, leadership, academics, family or starting a business, he was both my coach and my champion. Later, my father and my mother sacrificed their retired rest to help with my children, addressing my guilt pangs when I was busy at work. This will resonate with professionals across the world, especially women, who give up successful careers once they become mothers as they are unable to juggle the many demands on them.

In my own role as a coach, some of the most poignant and fulfilling moments have come when listening to individuals talk about the role of their parents. It’s often accompanied by a little lump in the throat, a glimmer in the eye—especially for the women. For men, it is a bit more covert because the relationship with fathers is itself, I daresay, more complex.

There’s an anonymous quote that pops on the internet every year around this Father’s Day that goes, “Anyone can be a father, it takes someone special to be a dad." A dad’s influence, like a mother’s, is not limited to the home—their values follow us into our professional life, and shape the stories we write for ourselves.

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