Taking the Long View

As of this week, my husband and I officially survived the teenage years when our youngest son turned 20. Making it through the teens (twice!) requires that a parent take the long view. The journey is sure to be scattered with a number of “are you kidding me?!?” days and weeks. For that reason, it is never wise to judge parenting skills by looking at a single day in time . . . parenting is all about the long view.

Hmmm . . . not really all that different from leading. Any time a leader tries to implement a major change initiative or new strategic effort, the process is likely to look a lot like an amplified version of the teenage years. For example . . .

Boundaries will be tested. I’m assuming I don’t need to explain all the ways a teen will do this, and it’s really not all that different with staff . . . You make decisions from where you are standing, which might be quite different from your staff/teen’s perspective. Yes, you may have at one time been exactly where they are, but your staff/teen is not likely to acknowledge that when you are setting a boundary that feels ridiculous to them. Some will follow out of respect; some will defiantly dance right up to the edge of, and occasionally over, the line; and others will smile sweetly while they quietly act like the line ever existed.

Your IQ will drop . . . some times considerably. You just don’t get it. You are being short-sighted. You are not being realistic. Sentiments such as these (and a host of other less kind versions) are usually a result running into the boundaries mentioned above. It is easier to question the leader/parent’s intelligence than to consider there might be a legitimate reason for the action that is in direct contrast with what the individual wants to do/knows how to do/thinks is right.

The goal is to feel in control. For a lot of people, change — even what may seem like minor change to you — makes them anxious and out of control. That feels bad. And so they find ways to take control over something, anything . . . the color of their hair, whether they share critical information with others, reverting back to a strategy that worked in the past . . . you get the picture.

The point here is not to make leading, or parenting, sound like a constant battle. It’s not. But it also rarely goes exactly according to plan, and if you expect it to you will be in a fairly constant state of frustration. What to do?

Take a deep breath. Cut yourself, and everyone else, some slack. Realize that there will be “are you kidding me?!?” days and weeks, but you can influence how quickly they pass. Find ways to acknowledge how your staff is feeling, and help them find their footing. Be a broken record in clearly communicating the end goal, and also be willing to take a slightly different path to get there. Make enough deposits along the way to be given the benefit of the doubt, even when your idea stretches people in uncomfortable ways.

Taking the long view may be difficult in our hurry-up/right now/instant gratification world, but trust me . . . the results are worth the wait.

One Big Happy Family

Middle Eastern / Western Business People Looking Up At Camera

I lead an organization that serves young people and their families. We strive daily to give struggling families tips and tools to function more effectively. I suppose it should come as no great surprise that many of those same concepts apply in the workplace. So what are some of the key “parenting tips” that may be helpful to a leader?

  • Look for what is going on “underneath” the behavior. We’ve all seen children have a melt down, dig their heels in, or act in other frustrating ways. With kids, it is easy for us to recognize that often times they are not responding to the specific situation at hand, but an underlying issue . . . they are tired, or hungry, or feel left out. With adults, we tend to simply respond to what we see as unacceptable behavior — their defensiveness, or lack of organization, or general snarkiness — rather than what is causing the behavior. Sure, we can do that (after all, they’re adults, right?!?) . . . but the result is likely to be a lot of unnecessary confrontations and not much long-term change in behavior. Sometimes, as the leader, we have to get off our high horse and take the time to figure out what is really going on with someone. Then we can respond to the real issue, rather than react to the behavior.
  • Sibling rivalry is a fact of life. “His piece is bigger than mine!” . . . “She always gets to do whatever she wants!” . . . “That’s not fair!” . . . Sure, adults may be a bit more subtle than kids, but many still have a competitive spirit and the innate need to succeed. These are not bad things in and of themselves. The best teams have a strong desire to get ahead. As a leader, however, you need to be aware that when there is a real or perceived shift in the “standing” of one team member (more time, attention, money or power), it is reasonable to expect a reaction from one or more members of the team. How you as the leader respond will likely determine if the rivalry is a momentary blip on the screen, or becomes a wedge within the team.
  • Sometimes, it stinks to be the grown-up. As a parent, sometimes you have to make decisions that your kids don’t understand or think are unfair . . . Or you have to make decisions that are hard at the time, but you know will be for the best in the long run. Sometimes, you don’t have the answers, but you still have to make a decision. You get the picture. Gathering input from a number of perspectives, weighing options and trying to gain consensus are important. And even when these things don’t result in a clear direction, you as the leader still have to choose a path. Will it be the right path 100% of the time? Nope. And if you have a history of being fair and understanding with your team, they will likely extend the same measure of grace to you.

Lest you think this leadership gig is nothing but challenge and aggravation, I draw on one more parenting tip. Parenting, like leading, is not supposed to be neat and tidy. It is hard and scary and amazing and wonderful, and for many of us what we are called to do. Sure there are days that make you want to pull your hair out . . . and those days make us appreciate the other days — the majority of days — when you know that you were made for this.