Leadership largely as a study is an exploration of self. During formal study, you explore what it takes to be a leader and many determine, in fact, that they don’t really want to be in a leadership position. Much in the same manner as some friends in the past who determined that they may not aspire to parenthood after spending an afternoon at a friend’s little kid’s birthday party. So, what is it about leadership that so relates to parenthood?
First and foremost, being a good leader and a good parent is about the development of those around you, whether they are called your employees or your children. Being a parent is about guiding your child through the walks of life, even when it’s a matter of being the bad guy, aka the disciplinarian (my least favorite role in this position). Being a leader means guiding those around you to grow professionally under your wing. The adjective of “good” often stems from the “why”, which just so happens to be my three-year-olds favorite word at the moment. Do you do it because you have to as a part of your role, or do you do it because you love to watch others develop and grow? I believe the root of our motivation correlates with our success. Whether it’s a matter of parenting or leadership, if you’re hearts not in it, it becomes quite obvious to others.
Another correlation of leadership and parenthood is the simplicity of success. Many times, we tend to overcomplicate things; at least I can speak for myself! Sometimes when everything hits the ceiling and my toddler is ranting and raving and tearing up the house, the solution is as simple as to turn off the television or perhaps to just put her in her bed. Moments like these hit me hard, especially in the wake of actually attempting to talk to her to calm her down or some other adult type of rationalization in the moment. Leadership is often similar. Leaders don’t necessarily have the singular role of motivating, leading, and developing their employees; they often have that dual role while upholding the business operations as well. So, life at work gets complicated. There are orders to be met, customers to keep happy, employees to manage, and bosses to answer to. Often, the simple reality of humanity underneath every function and operation of the business can be overlooked. That’s why I tell my management students probably 40 times in a semester class, “No matter how complicated your affairs may become, never forget that you are working with people, people who have lives outside of here and who have feelings dominating their beings and blood running through their veins.” I personally believe that much of what makes dissatisfied employees is that disconnect of humanity with management.
Finally, I’m not sure there is one right or one wrong way to be a parent or a leader, nor is there a textbook that will teach us what experience will. Different situations call for different styles in both situations. Nine months of pregnancy and endless books, blogs, websites, and chatting with other mothers could not have prepared me for what happened once my child was put into my arms. The moment dictates my actions. Sure, if I have a moment to ponder (rare), I can recall information about the situation that I had read in the past, but instincts kick in. The first look into those eyes and the promises start rolling – safety, happiness, vacations, strength, courage, manners, life’s lessons. I think a leader should take a similar approach with a new employee or team. The leader should promise to them what she brings to the table and what she hopes to help the team or individual create and become. In essence, this would be equivalent to the “Leader’s Charter”, a wonderful mission statement for any leadership position written by Art Petty and Rich Petro in Practical Lessons in Leadership. Start out simply knowing where you want to go, how you want to treat your people, take advice and lessons from life and books, and stay focused in the tough moments.
I have a little secret to confess: when I was a high school teacher, I used to secretly thank my students’ parents for the practice in becoming a parent. Human beings are sometimes tough to manage, especially in those difficult, hormonal years of self-exploration, and I got a crash course in teenagers! Again, the several adolescent psychology courses that I had to take certainly became a foundation of my knowledge but rarely could I ever recall a particular theory when in the moment of chaos in the classroom. Leading a classroom of teenagers or a team of adults or a child through the walks of life all have much in common, and I think the key to it all is to try to have an empathetic approach to everything. I say it and know in the same breath how challenging this can often be. But, the attempt to put yourself in another’s shoes itself, even if unsuccessful, proves the heart in you as a parent and a leader and the presence of the answer “because I care and want to help you” to the never-ending question of why.