I had the fortune to serve as a senior leader for most of two decades at a great mission-based organization. Long a student of leadership, I benefited from working alongside some amazing mentors and colleagues. My career offered many opportunities, leading strategic initiatives and managing products and businesses. But I believe my life as Gabriella’s dad also gave me insights that helped me become a better leader. Here are five lessons about leadership and life that I learned from my daughter:

  1. Expect the Unexpected: Lisa and I are planners, and we had laid a lot of groundwork for our first child. Visions of my soon-to-be-born daughter in a communion dress filled me with joy. Then Gabriella arrived, presenting us with challenges we could never have imagined and reshaping my conception of the future.

Contingency planning is vital to many activities, but no one can anticipate everything. It’s more important to adopt an attitude of flexibility, so that when a Black Swan event happens, we’re not frozen. I can’t say I’ve always been as agile as I wish, but I try to keep an eye on the big picture. More often than not, that has enabled me to stay calm in the face of the unexpected.

  1. Be Optimistic: Gabriella’s diagnosis at six months old was a paralyzing outcome. Instead of bringing hope and a path of action, Opitz Trigonocephaly offered only variations of doom. But we refused to give up, doing our best to remain upbeat. Our faith and optimism were rewarded when the geneticist recanted the diagnosis.

It’s easy to get dragged into the doldrums by bad news, whether in the media or our private lives, but maintaining a positive outlook helps. It doesn’t change the outcome, but it makes it easier to cope. And as ironic as it sounds, sometimes optimism means saying No and refusing to allow despair to win out.

  1. Express Your Gratitude: Gabriella clicks to show she’s grateful, for a hug or for lunch or just for attention, and those clicks are sought after by family and friends. They also remind me it’s important to say Thank You.

The pragmatist might consider that being thankful increases the likelihood that the person being thanked will do another favor in the future, while the moralist might say expressing gratitude is just the right thing to do. Whatever the motivation, it’s good karma. And it’s never too late. While it’s better to offer acknowledgement soon after we receive the good deed or gift, I have felt pleasure as well at a Thank You for something I did a long time before. Almost as much pleasure as I get from one of Gabriella’s clicks.

  1. Maintain Perspective: Our life with Gabriella has been a whirlwind of challenges and tough news. It’s also brought amazing rewards, as I’ve shared in some of the posts to date. One benefit of all this excitement is that it’s brought perspective to everything else.

When I’ve suffered disappointments at work, failed deliverables or squandered opportunities, I try to ask myself “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” No matter what, it’s never more daunting than what we’ve faced at home. This thought process helped me overcome my fear of speaking in public, despite being an introvert, thinking that no embarrassment was worse than some of the scares we’ve had in the hospital and elsewhere. With that said, sometimes I look back and consider how I might have done a better job maintaining my perspective.

  1. Find Life-Work Balance: When Gabriella went into the hospital with dehydration, I realized that my life had changed for good. Everything that had seemed important a few weeks before paled in comparison with doing whatever it took to keep her alive. We altered our routines entirely, and while she was back in the hospital, Life took precedence over Work.

It’s easy to allow our careers to overwhelm everything else in our lives, and sometimes it’s appropriate, whether for client installations or project milestones or other big events. Likewise, I learned that week that our personal and family concerns can absorb all our attention. But I’d argue that those are the easy decisions. The key is what we do the rest of the time. I prefer to put life first as opposed to the usual “work-life balance” construction, just to shake us out of our norms, but the most important word is balance. I believe success requires navigating an equilibrium in one’s life: if you can objectively look at your week and feel balanced, you probably are.