Many of us are leaders in business and parents in our personal lives. Parenting is similar to leading. In both cases, someone is looking up to us for guidance and direction. There are various leadership theories, one of which is servant leadership.
According to Robert K. Greenleaf, “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” The ancient Indian scriptures also define servant leadership; in the 4th century BC, Chanakya wrote in his book Arthashastra:
“The king shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects. The king is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”
The key element of both quotes above is for the leader ‘to serve’ as pleased by the follower. As parents, how can we apply the same principle ‘to serve’ as it is pleased by our child, and not according to what pleases us?
While I may believe that learning to count numbers is appropriate at the age of five, my son clearly prefers to play with his Lego bricks. In the overzealous era where we as parents want to do all (and more) for our children, we forget that children just want to be children.
Hence, if Chanakya’s Niti (doctrine) or Robert K. Greenleaf’s theory were to be applied to parenting, the ‘servant parentship’ characteristics would look like this:
1. Listen and Empathise
Each time we listen to our children, we instil confidence in them and show that we respect them. We also let them lead, while being guided or supported by us.
We must empathise with them even if they are still little at five or seven years old, and even more so when they are teenagers – parents of teenagers will assure us that it is the teenage years that demand the highest level of empathy. Empathise with them to let their spirits come alive.
One of the most powerful impacts that a parent can have is to heal. A bruised knee, a broken heart, tears because of a lost pet or poor grades; we as parents have the power to make the broken pieces whole once again.
3. Awareness and Persuasion
While lots of time and money is spent to make children aware of the world, making them self-aware of their strengths and aspirations is a key input that parents can provide. So, does serving mean we do not direct the child towards making the right choices? Well, no. A parent will need to establish boundaries and teach right from wrong.
This, however, is done through connection and not coercion. At home, screen time is severely restricted for my son, and he complains about it. The only way for me to convince him to go with it is to help him understand the joy of playing, running, reading and drawing, instead of using gadgets.
Well, I do err several times each week, but I then try harder to connect and not enforce.
Read: Working Parents: Getting the Balance Right
4. Conceptualisation and Foresight
We must enable children to create great visions for themselves through their own imagination. We don’t make them soccer champions because we wish to make them one.
Rather, we use our maturity and life experiences to leverage the lessons of the past, understand our children’s current circumstances, and prepare them for future consequences. This is an intuitive process based on our understanding of our children.
We are trustees (not owners) of our children, and only while they are young. As trustees, my husband and I guide our son to become a good human being. I tell myself each day, I am destined to parent this child as one of my roles on earth. But on some days I forget to listen to myself, so I tell myself again.
6. Commitment to Growth
Parenting is as much a journey for us as it is for our child. The two of us can move like companions: we be the guide, and the child is the one who takes the actions. With this companionship, growth is inevitable.
Read: 4 Simple Steps for Parents to Raise Leaders from Young
7. Build Communities
Lastly, as parents we feel pure love in our hearts. This love can be shared among a larger community. A ‘servant parent’ has the characteristics to build a beautiful community by teaching the right values to their children and volunteering for the right cause by themselves.
Lao-Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher wrote about servant leadership in the 5th century BC:
“The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware… The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’”
Let’s let our children lead. Let our leadership not be restricted to boardrooms alone. Remember, we are developing leaders in our homes too.
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