Parenting provides a myriad of opportunities to hone your leadership skills. If you’re anything like me, your kids are both your pride and joy, and a regular source of frustration. They can be horrible one moment – and positively angelic the next. And while I would never ever suggest you should experiment on your children, I do think that embracing parenting as an opportunity to strengthen you leadership muscle is a great idea.
Because you Care. Deeply
Nobody has more invested in your kids growing up to be happy, healthy, engaged and successful (however they define it) members of society than you do. You bring them into the world with every intention of providing them with the best possible foundation you can. And even when they have you tearing your hair out – you still want what’s best for them and would protect them from harm at any cost.
Your kids represent your investment in the next generation. They are, at least in part, your legacy. Yet you don’t want that burden to be heavy – so you guide, and support, and encourage, and coach. You pick them up when they fall and you wipe the tears away.
When you bring a new employee into your organisation, your desires should be the same. Perhaps not as emotionally charged, but the same flavour. You should consider that you are investing in them to be happy, healthy, engaged and successful members of your team. That you will provide them with the best foundation upon which to build that success, and that even if they let you down, you would go in to bat for them if they needed you do.
New employees are your organisation’s next generation. They are your legacy to the organisation – and you should guide, support, encourage and coach them… and yes, sometimes you will let them fall, but only so that they get up stronger and more determined than before.
Parenting and Leadership – Unpicking the Metaphor
Here are five ways that parenting is like organisational leadership, and how you can draw on your parenting experiences to make you a more effective leader.
The Destination and the Journey
Nobody wants to get in the car with you if they don’t know where you’re going. But give them an inkling of what lies in wait at the other end, and they’ll be clambering on board. Lets go to the castle playground! Never mind the two hour drive, the enormous hill, the windy road, the car sickness, and the lack of exciting things to look at on the way – I want to ride the miniature train!
But once you’re all in the car and heading out of town, the questions start. Can we stop to go bathroom? How much longer? Are we there yet?
The same is true for your staff. They trust you to choose a worthy destination, but they don’t know how to get there, and they can’t drive themselves. So you need to think of ways to break the journey into smaller more manageable steps. To provide feedback on progress. To celebrate successes along the way. And to course-correct if it becomes apparent that the particular destination is no longer desirable.
Have a plan, sketch in some of the detail, but acknowledge that there’s more than one way to get there.
Growth and Development
One of your main jobs as a parent is to take responsibility for facilitating your kid’s learning and development. But you can’t make them learn if they don’t want to. You have to create the environment, and provide the encouragement, and then – well – hope for the best.
There are hard skills that they need for life… walking, talking, writing. And softer skills that will make life seem ‘smoother’… emotional resilience, optimism, interpersonal relationships, confidence (for more on these see recommended reading below). You cannot force these skills on your kids. But you can role-model. And you can create an environment where these skills are valued and recognised.
The same is true at work. There are hard skills – the ones needed to ‘do the job’ – and softer skills (competencies) that make it easier to get the work done – like teamwork, organisational nous and leadership. You can’t make your team members learn these things. But if they want to – and you have role-modelled and created an environment where these things are recognised and acknowledged – the odds go way up.
Those little tykes are basically boundary testing machines. Like a walled in bloodhound, desperate to explore the boundary fence in case there’s just the smallest weakness in the perimeter… Methodical. Resourceful. Tenacious.
Likewise, your employees need to know the constraints within which they are permitted to operate. What issues need to be escalated to you? What can they take care of themselves? How frequently do you need them to check in?
You need to know where these boundaries are, you need to be confident that they are consistent with other leaders’ boundaries (“but dad, mum said it was OK”) and you need to communicate these boundaries frequently, in multiple ways.
Integrity and Fairness
Nothing makes my ‘nearly-four-year-old’s’ lip start to quiver than the perception that the goal-posts have moved mid game. Toddlers are particularly sensitive to perceived fairness, or lack thereof – but we never truly grow out of it.
When I was five, I wanted nothing in the world more than a pair of roller skates. We didn’t have much money, but my mum and dad agreed that if I was good, and did my chores, they would buy me a pair. We kept track with a sticker reward chart.
I cannot for the life of me remember what I did to trigger the argument, but it was a doozy. Eventually mum cracked, and she ripped up the sticker chart and told me I couldn’t have the roller skates.
I cried for ages. And the memory stuck with me right through to adult-hood. Not because of the roller skates (I still got them anyway) but because it wasn’t fair. Removal of one or two stickers I could have understood – but in my mind, the undermining of weeks’ of hard work (it may actually only have been a few days – this is a childhood memory, after all!) was not justified by one meltdown.
I also remember my ten year old younger sister being absolutely ropable that I was allowed to drive the car… Our sense of fairness isn’t always logical – but it’s no less ‘real’!
Your staff need to know that you are treating them fairly and consistently, and that you behave with integrity. Failure to do so undermines trust, and eventually you’ll have a melt-down of your own to manage. You need to pay attention to this at all times, because you can never be one hundred per cent sure what their equivalent of my sticker chart is, until it’s too late.
Interest in the ‘Whole’ Person
The Paw Patrol and PJ Masks aren’t really on my list of favourite television shows, but I’m pretty sure that I know every episode more or less off by heart. My son can ask for an episode by the most obscure reference, like “Rubble is a Ghost” and I know which one he’d like to watch.
Your employees have a raft of interests, passions, hobbies, causes, family members and quests outside of the office. And while it isn’t your job to know it all intimately, you need to invest the time to understand what makes them tick. What motivates them. Why it matters.
Without this vital insight, you can never hope to support them to be their most effective and best self. You won’t recognise when they’re under stress. You won’t notice when they really need some encouragement.
And if that’s not your job? I don’t know what is!
What similarities do you see between organisational leadership and parenting? I’d love to hear your stories!
Related Reading on Parenting (Amazon Associate links)
Tough sets out a clear case for why IQ is not a useful indicator of lifetime success, and why grit, perseverance, conscientiousness, self-control, optimism and curiosity are far more meaningful predictors of success. Build a clear case for how, with the right support, adverse childhood circumstances can become the launch-pad for phenomenal lives.
The Optimistic Child: A Revolutionary Approach to Raising Resilient Children, by Martin Seligman
With rates of childhood depression and anxiety on the rise, this book sets out a proven approach for teaching kids the skills that protect against such conditions – the skills that children need to approach their teenage years with confidence.
Good Ideas: How to be your Child’s (and your own) Best Teacher, by Michael Rosen
Forget lists, passing tests and ticking boxes, the world outside the classroom can’t be contained within the limits of any kind of curriculum – and it’s all the better for it. Packed with practical tips, stories and games to inspire a legion of anxious parents and bored children, Good Ideas shows that the best kind of education really does begin at home.
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD
In this pioneering, practical book, a neuropsychiatrist and a parenting expert demystify the meltdowns and aggravation, explaining how a child’s brain is wired, and how it matures.
The Whole-Brain Child shows you how to cultivate healthy emotional and intellectual development so that you children can lead balanced, meaningful and connected lives.