Leadership like Parenting?

In my life, I play two main roles: Corporate consultant to leaders and parent of two teenagers. I am often struck by the similarities between these two “jobs.”

As I see it, many leaders spend their day trying to “make up” for parenting that didn’t happen. And, if you happen to be doing both jobs – you have the perfect opportunity to cross-train.

I consider these 6 rules the basic foundation of a happy family and a happy workplace. See how you can apply them to both domains in your world:

1) Share your toys.

Unless you have an only child, you spend a great deal of time working on this rule in your family. In our family, it’s OK to have a few things to “call your own” but I want my kids to learn that sharing is better than hoarding. It just feels better in the long run (even when a 4-year-old doesn’t want to) because it creates relationship. And relationships are what humans are built for.

Leaders find themselves navigating this territory daily – Whose territory is that global customer? Who gets our limited IT development resources first?  Which business unit(s) should we pour our resources into this year?  How can several urgent needs for “shared services” share the “toys”?  Running interference with people who wear the “That’s mine!” hat, wears many leaders out.  In our work, much of what we do is help leaders facilitate clarity on what fluffy concepts like competition, collaboration, coordination, and compromise really mean in their business.

If people were rewarded for “generosity of spirit” as much as competition and winning, I wonder how families and the corporate world would benefit?

2) Tell the truth.

Most parents reading this would say “telling the truth” is value #1 in their family. Integrity or honesty typically appear on every corporation’s “Values” list.

It’s the grey areas where this gets interesting. Businesses are spending billions of dollars on mandatory “ethics training” …. And in my experience, 99.9% of people know what it means to “do the right thing.”

My son (age 12) is keenly aware of “What is a lie?” Saying something you really don’t mean, such as a compliment?  Promising attention or rewards, but you get busy and can’t follow through at that exact time or day?  Saying one thing, realizing later it wasn’t accurate?

In the corporate setting, putting aside conscious mis-use of power and dishonesty, there is an epidemic of “soft-pedaling the truth.” Phrases like “career limiting move” are used to describe what will happen when you say what you really think. Fulfillment and development groups struggle to meet the expectations that have been set by salespeople.  You tell the boss what they want to hear, even when you know it can’t be done.

If “telling the truth” were something we each decided to take on, as the commitment to accepting responsibility for what you know, acting in alignment with that knowledge to the best of your ability, and not tromping on other’s rights in doing so … I wonder how families and the corporate world would transform?

3) Ask for what you want.

The word “No” is one of the first things a child learns in our culture (and most developed cultures as well). Nature’s way of establishing ourselves as individuals and self-empowerment, I suppose. The inundation of negative messages from the popular media and the over-desire to protect our children at all costs has led most people in this culture to put more attention on what we don’t want, versus on what we can say “yes” to and what we do want.

“What I’d like is…”  “What I wish for is….” “Can I have ….”  “

Being clear what you want … and then asking nicely for it: Practice this daily and create a revolution in the family and the corporate world.

4) Play nice in the sandbox.

In NLP, this is the presupposition “Every behavior has a positive intent. “  Pretty simple.

“Mary didn’t wake up this morning to be mean to you.” I wonder what her intention was?

“Paul didn’t wake up this morning to derail your project.” I wonder what his intention was?

Regularly reminding people about the presence of positive intent can transform any situation. Only hard-core cynics remain committed to the mischievous nature of the human race in the face of realizing that we all really want the same things: Love, respect, a sense of belonging, being useful.

If you asked the question “What do we imagine the positive intention of that person was?” on a regular basis, you’ll find out how powerful transformation can happen from one simple question.

5) When a fight breaks out, both parties are equally responsible.

While this may not be the exact truth, it’s helpful to act as if it is.  Disagreement that de-rails into fighting is never one-sided. I’m not talking about bullying – or oppressive dictatorship.  That’s not about disagreement, that’s about power as a substitute for Love.

This rule is about learning to internalize the concept of personal responsibility.

Once you get past the “he said, she said” polarity of any two positions, you can turn your attention to explore concepts of “What is the common purpose in this situation, that you both share?”  “What kind of give-and-take might allow you both to have something you want?”  Or, if you can’t agree “If we agree to disagree on this, what can we each do to ensure the relationship maintains trust?”

Want to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in negotiation and conflict resolution training?

Apply these simple questions in your family and workplace.

6) Structure works better than no structure.

My daughter had 9 years of early Montessori education, premised on the truth that children (really, all people) learn best by experience (versus “lecture”) and that self-directed learning creates greater motivation. She thrived in an environment where the schedule was known and the goals were clear, but she was also given the freedom to choose within that.  8:00 – Circle time to set our day.  9:00 – Time for math (which was assigned but you got to choose the order of the work you completed during the hour, or pick from several activities). 10:00 – snack.  11:00 – Storytime.  11:30 – lunch.

She became a super-responsible and disciplined person as a result of that environment.

When my kids have a sense of routines and what to expect from the weekend, our weekend goes better.  Chores on Saturday. Pancakes on Sunday. Movie in the afternoon after our work is done. One of their most-requested routines is the weekly menu that gets posted on Sunday afternoon – that way, they know what’s for dinner the whole week.  Simple stuff, but it helps ground us amidst the crazy “unknown-factor” we all experience.

In the business world, there is usually an imbalance in this territory:  Typically too much structure and micro-management on some areas, and too little structure in others.  The definition of “bureaucracy” is “activity that is disconnected from purpose” – or over-structured activity that has lost its meaning.  Meetings or reports or projects that keep us busy but don’t make a difference – that’s an application of structure without purpose. On the other hand, most corporate meetings could benefit from a more involved, engaged structure to facilitate discussion and problem-solving, rthe one-way PowerPoint “drills” that don’t have a clear purpose or goal.

In a world where change is the name of the game, the rule of structure is simply being mindful of letting  people know what you’re thinking and what they can count on, even when you don’t have all the answers and when things are uncertain.  For me, the commitment to be still for 20 minutes and walk every day is an important structure.

If we all gave a little more attention to creating structure that allows for healthy self-discipline and clarity for how to participate, I wonder how our families and the corporate world would benefit?

If I spent the rest of my life putting these rules into practice, it would be a worthy life. There’s never a shortage of people and situations seeking better methods to stay connected, take care of what’s important (ie, each other), and feel a sense of meaning and purpose.

Nobody needs a whole mess of new rules to follow.  But, we each “lead” someone in some way. I try to follow the “Yogi wisdom” of showing up with the same “face” wherever I go.

Bon chance!


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