Leadership and Parenting: Five Parallels

By: Jeff Kirschner

There are many commonalities between raising children and the daily challenges of leading others. Here are five themes that apply in both arenas.

Fairness and impartiality are fundamental.
Whether it is your child complaining that you love their sibling more or your direct report complaining about equal pay, everyone is watching you closely to make sure that you are being fair. Kids and direct reports are highly attuned to signs that you are favoring someone else and are likely to be vocal about any perceived inequity.

Praise works better than punishment.
This principle, straight out of behavioral psychology, is clearly validated in homes and in the workplace. Punishment engenders resentment, and research shows that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. As Ken Blanchard suggests in The One-Minute Manager, catch your people doing something right. A single word of praise to a child or direct report will pay dividends in helping them align their behavior with the values you want to establish as a leader in the household or business.

Adapt your style to the problem at hand.
If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Adapting your leadership style to address the dynamics of the current problem will prove more effective than treating every situation the same way. Sometimes people need a kick in the rear, and sometimes they need an arm around the shoulder. Understanding which style works best for you in a particular situation will increase your effectiveness in parenting and management.

Motivation comes from within, not from you.
In the end, people will do what they think is in their best interest. The key to motivating children or direct reports is to listen carefully, understand the way that they view the world, and help them get to their goals. Imposing your viewpoint will likely result in conflict, disempowerment, and dissatisfaction with work or home life.

People pay attention to what you do, not what you say.
It’s one thing to espouse idealistic philosophy, quite another to embody those principles in your daily actions. Kids are perceptive that way; they look intently at their parents’ behavior and emulate their actions. Similarly, in business, small actions from senior leaders seem to take on great importance for others. A leader may notice that others are borrowing their catchphrases or even starting to act like them. That’s why consistency of behavior is important in leadership, whether it is in the household or in the workplace—it sets a standard for others to follow.

In conclusion, many principles of good management are the same as good parenting; operating in a consistent way from a strong moral center helps to align individual behavior with desired strategic outcomes. As a leader, your job is to help others become the very best version of themselves that they can be. If you do a good job of parenting or leading, you will enjoy the fruits of your labor as evidenced by their future achievements.

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