Have you ever contemplated the parallels between leadership and parenting?  Some of my clients have.  After a thoughtful and reflective discussion with clients about leadership, I have occasionally observed them come to the conclusion that leading is like parenting.  Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed those conversations, I’ve rarely seen them devolve into any actionable take-aways or behaviour change.

Besides, that’s a silly concept, right?  I mean, we LOVE our kids (and nieces and nephews for those who don’t have kids).  But for many of us, our overly litigious and paranoid ‘management brain’ completely rejects the notion that we might actually have ‘feelings’ for our staff.

In North America, we’ve been programmed to believe that feelings don’t belong in the workplace – that caring about employees beyond a superficial “How was your weekend?” is intrusive and unprofessional.  This comes chiefly from three arguments:

  1. Employment lawyers would have you believe that taking a clinical approach to management (aka “keep your distance”) is the safest approach to avoid harassment complaints.
  2. Some argue that keeping your distance makes it easier for managers to discipline and correct employees when required.
  3. We assume that most people don’t want a close relationship with their boss.

My experience tells me differently.

  1. Most of the many harassment complaints I dealt with during my career in HR could have been avoided if the employee’s manager cared about the employee enough to take their concerns seriously.
  2. The managers who have the most difficult time correcting their staff tend to view correction as punishment, and tend not to have a very close relationship with them. When an employee feels that their manager sincerely wants the best for them, they welcome correction.
  3. A line in a popular Open Letter to Management written by a Millennial reads: “Treat me like a number? I’ll return the favor.  This job will quickly become nothing more than my rent payment.”  The reality is that most people are tired of being treated like an input into a money-making machine.

 Taking A Page Out Of The Parents Playbook

Parents are leaders.  They lead the most important organization in society – the family.  Business leaders can learn a lot from good parenting practices, and great parents should not be afraid to apply their leadership skills in the workplace.

Parents are leaders. They lead the most important organization in society - the family. Click To Tweet

Here are five things good parents do that business leaders (aka “executives and managers”) should do as well:

1. Show them you care

Business leaders who genuinely care about their staff are motivated by the desire to help them be more successful.  Leaders show they care about their staff in many of the same ways that parents show their kids.  They make time to talk to them (read: “listen to them”), and they treat that time as one of their top priorities.

This means that business leaders don’t reschedule their one-on-ones with staff when something else comes up, unless it’s truly an emergency.  And when they meet with their staff, leaders stay present.  They’re not signing cheques or checking their phone.

2. Make them feel safe

As Simon Sinek so eloquently explains in this Ted Talk, people who work in an environment of blame end up expending most of their energy protecting their backside, not on doing what’s in the best interest of the company.  What’s more, they learn not to take initiative.

Like good parents, good leaders create a safe environment for people to learn to take initiative.  They treat everyone as though they are learning (because they are), and don’t punish them when they make mistakes.  Instead, they provide coaching or caring correction to help set the employee up for future success.

3. Make them feel confident

Confident people outperform insecure people in virtually every context.  I make the case in this article that confidence is the ultimate performance enhancer.  Parents intuitively know this.  They praise their kids for even small achievements.  Others may criticize parents for doing this too much, but there is no downside to praising a child (or adult) for doing something good, there is only upside.

As a parent of three daughters, I can attest that the surest way to help my girls become genuinely confident is to focus on their strengths and work around their weaknesses.  In the workplace, our tendency is to do things the other way around.  When leaders align people’s work to their strengths, engagement issues vanish, and performance issues can be dealt with much more effectively.

Confident people outperform insecure people in virtually every context. Click To Tweet

4. Develop them

Parents instinctively understand that one of their most important jobs is to help their children learn and grow.  Parents know that it would be far more efficient and expedient to tell their children what to do and how to do it.  Believe me, it’s painful to wait for my four-year-old to brush her teeth, but I don’t want to keep doing it myself.  That’s why I insist that she brush her own teeth, and I do fewer “tooth checks” the more proficient she becomes.

Good business leaders understand that one of their most important jobs is to develop others.  They do this by gradually expanding people’s scope of responsibility and decision-making authority.  Good leaders resist the impulse to tell people what to do.  Instead, they ask them “What do you think we should do?” and exercise patience as their staff become more proficient at making decisions.

5. Believe in them

People tend to live up to their leader’s expectations of them.

A client once told me that she didn’t think her newly hired VP of operations was going to make it.  I told her that I was certain she was right, because her expectations of him would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Her body language, tone, what she says and how she says it will give her away.  Her VP will feel that she doesn’t have confidence in him, and as a result, he’ll second-guess himself and make poor decisions, sealing his fate.

People tend to live up to their leader’s expectations of them. Click To Tweet

Great parents and leaders help others see their potential more clearly than they can see it in themselves.  When good leaders believe that someone on their team is not positioned for success, they have a frank, caring conversation about what they can do to help the team member reach their potential, rather than simply waiting for them to fail.

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6 Comments

  1. MacKinlay on December 2, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Mike, It was not until I was a parent myself that I realized how true this is. I would also like to extend this to one additional audience. I am a Financial Advisor in Utah, and currently manage about 50 million dollars in assets. When I first started in this field I was told by my higher ups in one of the largest brokerage firms in the world that I need to find out as quickly as possible if a person had money, and if they did not, get rid of them ASAP. This is very contradictory to my personality. I tried for a couple of years to do this. I was mildly successful, but detested going to work every day. It was not until my wife suggested being myself that I started to enjoy what I did. I treated my clients as close friends, not paychecks. I got to know their lives, their families, their likes and dislikes. I truely started to value them, regardless of the dollar signs it meant. I will be honest, this approach took longer then some of my peirs to find financial success, however I love what I do now, and my clients realize I care about them and want the best from them. As a result I receive approximately 100% more referrals then my closest counterpart in the company I work for. If your kids, employees, clients, know that you care and want the best for them, it will do nothing but increase productivity in anything you apply it to.
    Thanks for your reminder and all your wisdom Michael!

    • Michael on December 2, 2016 at 11:40 am

      Thanks very much for your comments MacKinlay. I really appreciate you sharing your story of success after applying these principles.

  2. Gosata on December 2, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Mike this comparison is so great very basic but revealing the reality, I love it.

    • Michael on December 2, 2016 at 11:38 am

      Thanks so much for your feedback Gosata!

  3. Terry Poulin on December 2, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Mike, from my years of experience, I know how true your comments about leadership and parenting (and grand-parenting) are. Effective people do use those skills in both situations, actually in ALL situations, including marriages, friendships and volunteer work! Thank you for the reminder to use these people building skills.

    • Michael on December 2, 2016 at 11:37 am

      Thanks Terry very much for your perspective. That’s a good point how these principles apply in all relationships.

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