Mon, May 20, 2024

How Parenting Helped Make Me Be a Better Leader/Manager

Last week, both my older daughter, who lives in Atlanta, and I had birthdays. She turned 26 and I turned a number significantly higher. Earlier this week, my younger daughter flew in from Seattle and my wife and I drove in from Augusta so that the four of us could celebrate the recent birthdays. Being with my two daughters (the younger turns 24 next month) caused me to reflect on over a quarter century of being a parent. In an interesting parallel, I became an academic department chair of approximately 35 faculty members in 2006, shortly before my daughters turned 8 and 6, respectively. In the 17 years that followed, I helped lead and manage people and organizations, and could not help but be struck by the similarities between being a parent and being the leader/manager of an organization. In today’s column, I would like to share with you what I learned from parenting that helped make me a better leader/manager.

 

  1. Have a Collaborative Leadership Team: When my wife and I brought our older daughter home for the first time after her birth, we looked at each other and said, “What do we do now?” From that point on, we knew that effective parenting would take a team effort. We learned pretty quickly to share the new workload and play to our individual strengths. As our children grew older, we also learned the importance of a “united front.” While we might not always agree with each other, we always talked things out and made decisions we would both stand behind. This ensured that if our daughters did not like an answer from one of us, they could not go to the other and get one they liked better, undermining the authority of the initial parent. I definitely carried these lessons into the workplace, where I always attempted to leverage the strengths of my leadership team and also worked with that team to ensure we were on the same page when it came to policies and decisions. We could disagree when making a decision, but once the decision was made, we all stood behind it.

 

 

  1. Widen the “Guard Rails” as Responsibility and Trust are Earned: When our children were very young, we were highly “directive.” That is, we expected them to do exactly as they were told. With no experience in the world, more than anything, they needed to be protected. However, over time, as they learned more and demonstrated responsibility, we widened their “guard rails” and gave them incrementally more freedom. They quickly learned that responsibility and trust are earned. Similarly, in the workplace, when employees are new, they actually thrive on more explicit direction. As employees demonstrate competence and responsibility, they gain more freedom and empowerment.  Clearly, when hiring more experienced employees, you provide them with appropriate wider guard rails.

 

  1. Freedom to Fail with Appropriate Accountability: Earlier this year, I wrote a column in this space about how failure can be a good thing and something we should not fear. We always stressed to our daughters that failure was not a bad thing as long as they put forth the appropriate effort in whatever is being ventured. Failing as a child when the stakes are low allows a person to be able to better deal with some inevitable failure we will all experience as adults. In the workplace, I learned to give my people the ability to attempt to reach the greatest heights, and if they failed, not punish them, but rather work with them to do better next time. We all need to be aware that we are accountable for our actions and outcomes, but failure should not be universally condemned, as it usually is an important step to great success.

 

 

  1. Different People are Motivated by Different Things: While my daughters have some things in common, in other ways, they are very different. While they are both super-competitive and “play to win,” I learned very early on that they responded very differently to different types of coaching. My older daughter responded much better to the “old school” coach, who often yelled and drilled you on technique until you got it right. On the other hand, if a coach ever yelled at my younger daughter, she would immediately “go in the tank.” She needed to be nurtured and encouraged to deliver her best performance. This is just one small example, but your employees may be motivated by different styles and different incentives. I learned very quickly that whether I was supervising 15 people or 150 people, I needed to know more about them in order to find out what would help motivate them to achieve their best performance.

 

  1. Parenting (and Leading/Managing) Never Ends: While my daughters are now both in their mid-20s and succeeding early in their careers, they no longer need my wife and me to guide them and lead them, like we did as young children, teens, and even as college students. They are now well into “adulting.” However, it does not mean our jobs as parents are over.  Rather, we have now become consultants who they come to as they experience new challenges in their work, financial, and personal lives. It works the same way with our employees. Over time, it becomes less about us telling them what to do, and more about being a collaborator, mentor, and consultant to help make their work lives better.

 

Parenting has probably been the most rewarding aspect of my life and as I watch my daughters grow into adulthood, I like to think that my wife (in particular) and I did a pretty good job. But, almost as importantly, leading people in the workplace has also been rewarding and I hope you can take these lessons I have learned and apply them in a similar manner.

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