What Being a Good Parent Taught Me About Being A Good Leader

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I am a working mother. And since both my career and my family are incredibly important to me, I often find commonalities between the two. The things that I learn at home I try to apply at work, and vice versa.

Within the past six months I have found an interest in what we call at our company, leadership. Leadership is NOT management. I am not anyone’s manager, or boss. It is in my best interest to do what is in the best interest in those who are led by me. The general idea is that if those who are leaders are able to make those around them better, the team and the company overall become better.

As I have begun my journey into leadership, moving from being a regular representative to a person who is responsible for the lives and livelihoods of others, I have seen very distinct parallels between what I do at home and what I do at work.

So, it starts. I compare being a regular employee to being a single person. You aren’t married, you don’t have kids. You are responsible for yourself and number one is always you. The decisions and choices that you make are going to be those that benefit you, and you put no one before yourself because no one is important enough to you yet. A regular rep is going to ask for a schedule where they know the most money is, they are going to worry about their own deals before the person sitting next to them.

Once you find someone, settle down and start a family, you are no longer number one. Suddenly there are two, three, four other people who are more important. Every morning you wake up and your to do list consists of things you need to do for the other people in your life who are now more important, because you’re looking in the big picture. The same thing applies when you move into leadership. You begin to pick your schedule based on working with people who need help the most, and you are that help. You find yourself tuning out the customer sitting in front of you just to hear what is happening at the next desk over.

Here are a couple cardinal rules in parenting that I have learned over the years that I think have given me an edge and an advantage over others who are not yet in that place in life.

1. “Because I Said So”

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I’m well aware that those in my generation and the generations before mine have heard this saying many, many times. If we are honest with ourselves, even if we never spoke up for fear of being hit with a wooden spoon (thanks Mom), it was never a good enough reason for us. And it’s not good enough for our children, or our employees.

People need the WHY. If we want to create well-rounded, independent thinking children who will grow into well-rounded and independent thinking adults, we tell them WHY we need them to do something. This creates communication, and understanding. So if I tell my thirteen year old daughter that I’d much rather her not watch television while she does her homework and she asks me why, I can point out the many studies that have been done that show how divided attention can affect performing well on one task. If my three year old son wants to know why he has to go to bed, I explain it is because his beautiful, big, growing brain needs some rest so that it can continue to grow.

If the people we are leading in the work place ask “why”, we should not look at this inquiry as a declaration of insubordination. We can’t just tell them that policies have changed “because”, and they don’t need to know why, just do it. This kind of response effectively shuts down communication. It makes people feel as if they are not important or relevant enough to be read in on the decision that could be affecting their life. Not giving someone a logical explanation is essentially telling them, “this decision is above your pay grade, and you have no say and no control”, which will be a very quick way to cause unhappy and insubordinate employees. This will also create rebellious and resentful children.

No matter the age of your child or the station of your employee, TALKING to them makes them feel respected. A person who feels respected will respect you, and follow your lead.

2. “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” 

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Another favorite statement of my mothers…

I’ve seen this happen with parents and leaders, and in my opinion it is the most disruptive behavior to a team or family dynamic.

As parents, we are supposed to be setting an example. Our behaviors, our values, our standards are most likely the same ones that our kids will develop. Even if they are bad ones. A father who displays anger over the outcome of a sporting event, shouting at the television and banging his fist on the table, will translate to a child doing the same thing over the outcome of a video or board game. And then that same father will discipline his child for that mimicked behavior. It actually makes no sense at all, but is the most common parenting mistake we make.

The same applies in the professional world. There are certain standards laid out and set up for the entire company to follow. I cannot, in good faith, wag my finger at someone for being late when I am notoriously late. I cannot ask someone to pull out a mop and clean the floor when they have never seen me do the same. A true leader does not delegate all the tasks to their employees and sit smugly by while the tasks get done. He or she delegates to themselves as well, and gets down and dirty with the people they are leading.

This applies for military or sports leadership, as well. The best military leaders of our time were those that got into the trenches and on the front lines with their subordinates. Athletic coaches are usually those who have already proven their worth in that sport. They may be standing on the side lines now, but their teams know that not long ago they walked (or ran) in their shoes.

“I’m Your Parent, Not Your Friend”

Being your childs friend and allowing your child to know you CARE about them are two entirely different things. A lot of parents don’t see the line, so they never go near it.

My husband struggles with this in parenting, and he is working on it. Our daughter will come home from school and after a brisk “how was school?” he will begin to bark out orders. Do your chores, clean your room, and do you have homework?

It may have been many years since I was 13, but I remember it very clearly, and I remember being very put out by this type of behavior, along with every other type of behavior because I was a teenage girl. I basically spent six years in a constant state of angst. With my daughter, I try to dig a little deeper, even if she is not responsive right away. I’ll ask how school was, I’ll tell her about a funny video I saw on YouTube that reminded me of her which indicates to her that I think about her when she’s not around. If I’m at the store for milk, I’ll grab a pack of gum I know she really likes and give it to her for no reason. It’s important for them to know that you are not just a disciplinarian. You are someone who genuinely cares about them, their day, their likes and dislikes.

This is another commonality with being a leader. It is beyond important to let the people you work with know that you care about more than just what happens when they are at work.

I know it’s difficult because you are likely to have more employees than you have children… I hope. If you have to, keep a little notebook. I keep a notebook with tabs that bear each persons name. In my notes I’ll write down their spouses name, their kids names, what sports teams they like, what their hobbies are, is there anything important going on in their lives like a big purchase or a medical issue. It doesn’t make you cold or indifferent that you need to keep notes. It makes you someone who cares enough to keep track of all these little details, even though you don’t have a photographic memory.

You can also use these little tidbits to help motivate your people. If you know Greg is looking to buy a house, he’s going to need a downpayment. Now when you approach Greg to coach him, you can relate how his performance will directly affect something he really wants to do. Greg will see the benefit to his sales improving, and he will also be impressed (and possibly touched) that you remembered something he told you in passing last month.

Despite popular belief, you can be your childs parent and friend. One day when they are older and they don’t need you to cut the crusts of their sandwiches or tie their shoes, you are going to want to sit down, have a glass of wine together and be friends. You might as well start developing that relationship now. Start figuring out the intricate little things that make your kid who they are, and will be a part of who they become.

You can also be friendly with people you work with. Just like with your kids, you aren’t going to want to pass out drunk and dance on tables with them, but you can care for them on a higher plane. The people in my life and career who have always made the biggest impression on me were those who showed I was important to them, and who made me feel that they believed in me.

Overall, it’s going to be your choice what type of parent and leader you want to be. This is why some people don’t have personalities to be in leadership, because they see things on such a small and selfish scale. And some people should definitley not have kids, because we don’t need anymore small scale, selfish people in the world. Someone who was important to my development as a leader once told me if you look behind you and no one is following you, you aren’t a leader.

And I’ll end with that.

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