With experience in both arenas, I can honestly say that I have made my share of mistakes and missteps, had lots of boo-boo’s and blowups, lost my cool and been hot-headed. But the good news is that with every slip, trip, and fall, I’ve learned valuable lessons. Sure, they may be in therapy for years, but I guess you could say that my children have taught me some of my most valuable lessons about leadership.
I will share those lessons with you now in the hopes that I may be able to save you some skinned knees and bruised egos. (And we’ll keep these just between us – no need to alert Child Protective Services, okay?)
Leadership lessons from parenting:
- Show them the love. Team members and children alike need to know that you value and appreciate them. Praise their progress, but make it specific, make sure it’s sincere, and don’t save it up for a once-a-year review.
- Some assembly required. Children don’t come fully assembled. They require a parent who will care for and cuddle with them, who will teach and train them. So, too, with team members. (Caution: cuddling with your employees may be frowned upon, but you know what I mean.) As a leader, your primary focus should not be to develop more followers, but to develop more leaders. Seek out development opportunities for them, seize upon teachable moments, serve as a mentor, and support your employees as they grow, learn, and develop.
- Never compare. If you have more than one child, you may have noticed that they are often very unique individuals. So much so that you may have wondered if there was some kind of switcheroo at the hospital when they were born. Similarly in the workplace, you will find that team members have very different strengths and assets. Embrace their individuality and encourage them to do the same. We need diversity in teams so that we can have greater creativity and innovation and more effective problem solving and customer service. I tell my children that instead of asking “How smart am I?” they should ask “How am I smart?” Likewise on your teams, encourage employees to leverage their strengths and focus on contributing in ways that only they can.
- Don’t rush in. There once was a boy who tried to help a butterfly emerge from its cocoon by cutting the cocoon open to release the butterfly. Unfortunately, the tight cocoon and the efforts the butterfly had to make to squeeze out of that tiny hole were what the butterfly needed to strengthen his wings to prepare him for flying when he emerged. In trying to help, the boy had actually hurt the butterfly. We make the same mistake in parenting and in leadership when we rush in to ease the struggles of our children and team members. It’s often in dealing with challenges and overcoming obstacles that muscles/resilience are built and character is born. If we don’t allow those on our teams (or our families) to experience uncomfortableness or difficulties, they will never reach their potential. Coach and guide, but let them solve their own problems.
- Give a little nudge. When my son, Philip, was little, he was a train fanatic. I remember some of those early trains and how, every now and then, the train would come off the tracks. Usually, all we had to do was give it a gentle nudge, and it was back on track and rolling merrily along again. The same principle can be applied in both parenting and in leadership. Kids and team members will occasionally get off track, get distracted, or veer off in a different direction. A simple nudge in the form of constructive feedback is often all that is needed to set them right again. Give feedback early and often. Most people would prefer to get corrective feedback than none at all.
- Walk your talk. As my teenagers started driving, imagine if I told them to buckle up EVERY time they got into the car, but then, didn’t do so myself? Which would have more impact on them – my words, or my actions? You know the answer, and you also know it can be tough to walk your talk. As a leader, folks are looking to you to model the way. You’ve just got to be consistent and know that you are being watched! Lead by example.
While there are many correlations between leadership and parenting, I recognize that there are also many distinctions between the two, as well. For instance, I’m sure you’ll agree that you don’t have unconditional love for your employees like you do for your kids, nor should you treat team members like children. However, many of the lessons that I have learned in my role as a parent are applicable in my role as a leader.
Leadership, like parenting, can be thankless and challenging. But it can also be extremely rewarding and gratifying. At least that’s what the therapists say.
- What other correlations would you add to this list? What have I missed?
- How have you been able to apply lessons learned as a parent to your role as a leader, or vice versa?
- Please leave a comment in the box below and share your insights with the community.
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Jennifer Ledet, CSP, is a leadership consultant and professional speaker (with a hint of Cajun flavor) who equips leaders from the boardroom to the mailroom to improve employee engagement, teamwork, and communication. In her customized programs, leadership retreats, keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, she cuts through the BS and talks through the tough stuff to solve your people problems.