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.