“As a parent, you’re compelled not by rules, but by values”
The parallels between home-life and office-life are not hard to find. Home and work are where we divide our days, place our priorities, and invest our energies. Both are places we develop familiarity and form bonds. In fact, colleagues can sometimes function like a second family. Family drama aside, there’s positive lessons about shared spaces and cooperation you can freely borrow from home (no business journal subscription needed). Parents and caregivers, for example, are our first leaders and you can look to them as the best primer on leadership.
As a parent myself, I discovered surprising latent qualities were instinctively activated upon becoming a parent. At first, I thought, gulp, with no training, how will I ever be prepared? Looking back now I realize, I was trained, for many years….by my parents. It was all locked up in my memory banks waiting for me to withdraw. I now realize the titanic responsibility of parenting, brought out the best in me. A new parent’s vast obligation to provide this stellar environment actually provides great intrinsic wisdom, strength, and clarity -- you just know what to do and you do it…every day. That’s because, as a parent, you are compelled not by rules or procedure, but by values. Your duty to provide safety, stability, training, discipline, and love naturally guides you to do the right thing. This heavy burden is somehow powerfully effortless. Good parenting makes all the difference in the outcome, we can all agree. That’s why we should examine this good parenting phenomenon to become better, more mature leaders.
This by no means implies employees are like kids, though everyone can find parallels between the workplace and the middle school lunchroom, but we can save that for another blog. An employee-centric workplace, with a talented workforce in today’s competitive tech-driven society, requires leaders who are above average. That’s why we need advice from “Mom” now and again.
Breaking it down, think about any great caregiver to grasp the most fundamental elements of leading:
1) Lead with heart by values, not by rules:
Rest assured, your values will guide the right decisions and actions. If your heart is in the right place, you will do the right thing. Like parenting, if you truly want the best for your child, you will dig deep and find strength and wisdom you never knew you had.
2) Use more care, less authority:
Leaders have rank, but rank alone doesn’t make a leader. Similarly, by virtue of being a parent alone doesn’t make a good parent. Leading takes a blend of all behavioral dimensions. Yes, D-style qualities of dominance, decisiveness, and risk taking are necessary, but should be tempered by influence, steadiness, contentiousness and caring, otherwise you are just dictating, intimidating, and enforcing. Above all “caring” about your employees the way you care about your child will temper your great leadership traits. Caring and empathy will ensure you will do the right thing. If you don’t care for employees as people, your team will notice. Empathy is not something you can fake.
3) Provide safety and remove obstacles:
We baby-proof our homes for toddlers in an effort to protect them and remove obstacles where they can get hurt. We try to make their way in life a bit easier because we want better than we had. Home-security is a billion dollar industry because people want to safeguard their families. Leaders who provide an atmosphere of safety within the workplace, help work teams flourish because they have the freedom to concentrate on higher-order functions instead of survival tactics or politics. Management guru, Simon Sinek's short TED talk explains why it’s important for leaders to make employees feel safe. For further reading, Sinek’s book, “Leaders eat last” expounds upon other important leader responsibilities.
4) Lead by example:
If you say to a child “be kind to your sister” yet you exchange harsh words with your neighbor, you’ve wasted your breath. As a leader, you have an obligation to lead by example. Be a participant in (not an observer or dictator of) the environment you want to create. Being a role model means your words and actions matter even when you’re not aware of it.
5) Put them in the driver’s seat:
When age appropriate, we stop taxiing our kids around. We get them road-ready through coaching, encouragement, trust and finally putting our kids in the driver’s seat so they can drive their siblings around, or at least run errands for their parents - Right? This is a huge, empowering step for any parent who gives the car keys to their kid the first time. It’s rewarding to see your young adult flourish in the driver’s seat and effectively handle their freedoms the way you coached them. In business, preparing others to lead is not only fulfilling, it’s your responsibility when or if they are ready.
6) Push them out of the nest:
Lastly, when I think about my ultimate goal as a parent, it is to make sure my child has all the tools to function as an awesome member of the human race. I’ve got about 18 years to equip him and instill values in him that will succeed long after I am gone. As difficult as it is, pushing your kids out of the nest and letting them fly successfully on their own makes you know you did the right thing. Business environments don’t typically allow this much mentoring time, but informal time spent with your team members individually or as a group mentoring, coaching, nurturing, empowering and providing feedback will get you one step closer to being able to let them fly solo eventually, leading their own team. They may come back to you for advice and counsel. At the very least, you are preparing future leaders to carry on your wisdom, coaching and training.
Their lives are forever changed because you believed in them...