Recently, I spoke to an ambitious professional lady in her early 30s who shared that she had quit her job following health concerns. She was only 5 months in as a new hire, when it became clear that her health was beginning to take a toll.
Shortly after, she learned that she was pregnant, and that shifted her fears to work post motherhood. The questions that now plagued her were, ‘Will she be able to bounce back to her career and juggle motherhood after the baby’s birth?’ ‘Will the decision of being a mother make or break her career aspirations?’
In that moment, Martha Ivester’s Tedtalk, ‘Hire A Mom! How 10 Years At Home Made Me A Better Leader At Google', came to mind. As I briefly shared how being a mom helped her become more valuable in the workplace upon return post motherhood. I noted my client’s eyes tearing up in relieve. It’s as if at that moment she was saying, “If Martha can do it, I can too!”
Leaving one to wonder about why some women in their childbearing years dread at the thought of their career taking a hit if they get pregnant, while others leverage parenting as a badge of honor in honing their leadership skills?
Parenting and Leadership, which one comes first?
If employee’s well-being, engagement and culture are imperative in today’s workforce—and we know that they are, perhaps we can learn a few things from the most important institution—the family. Where parents lead for better or worse.
Let’s consider, when it comes to parenting and leadership, which one comes first? Before you respond, consider the question more plainly.
The reality is that there are parents who learned to lead themselves, their children and others more effectively and efficiently once they become a parent.
Similarly, there are others who are yet to realize that they are leaders whether they know it or not. After all, their child/children depends upon their leadership for survival.
Clearly, parenting is not for everyone, just as leadership is not for everyone either. For one to lead they must be ready to forget self, and put the needs of those they lead first—this describes much of what a great parent does.
As Patrick Lencioni argues in his book, The Motive, the best leaders are those who examine their true motives first before embarking on leadership. Examining your reasons to lead or be a parent are critical because if you do not know why you lead, you are likely to cause more harm than good.
“When the purpose of a thing is unknown abuse is present.” – Dr. Myles Munroe
Undoubtedly, parenting and leadership requires one to be selfless, seek the good of others, and have a realistic expectation in that you choose to have agency for self and those you lead.
Parenting and Leadership, Commonalities Exist
Both are about influencing another’s action to get a specific outcome. An impossible task if you do not care, respect and love those you lead.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to be a model of that which you desire to see around you. Any good parent knows that kids learn best by observation. This is no difference from leading in the workplace; for no one wants to follow a leader who’s mantra is, "Do as I say, but not as I do".
Read more: How Leaders Can Set The Greatest Example of All
For the most part, leadership is about transformation. How well you do this is largely dependent upon your vision—or the outcome you wish to realize in the long haul.
Your goal as a leader is to build a healthy, strong cohesive team who’s capable of transforming your organization to a winning and thriving force in your industry.
This is best done if you are intentional and willing to invest in building your team’s capacity consistently. Similarly, a great parent’s goal is to raise adults who are happy healthy responsible and have the capacity to handle whatever life throws at them.
Leadership is influence. Influence is the ability to have an effect on another person’s development, character and behavior. As such, the best leaders are very self-aware almost to a fault. Knowing thyself: understanding your strength and weakness means you’re open to learning.
This is why great leaders are said to have a growth mindset. In essence, they are always learning new things and tweaking for optimal outcome. For to lead another human being means you are predictive, pragmatic, agile, adaptable, curious, visionary and lead with purpose.
All being skills that you or your team are not necessarily endowed with, yet are critical to build a winning and a thriving organization. As such, investing yourself and your team is imperative for honing your leadership.
Not to mention today’s business environments are changing at Nano-speed and only those equipped with both soft and hard skills will remain competitive.
Supplementary Reading: 8 Powerful Ways to Mould Your Children Into Leaders
How Best Leaders (Parents) Lead
Now that you are clear on why you want to lead, lets’ explore how you might best lead and serve at your best.
A Culture of Psychological Safety
Cultivating a culture of safety is a critical human need. Without it we do not exist. According to research by Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.
Consequently, this means that you are also willing to explore and consider alternative avenues if inconsistent behavior different from what you anticipate come about. This level of awareness is key if you want to create a culture of health, harmony and happiness in your organization or home.
The reality is that your children have no expectations unless you clearly create and communicate that with them. Setting the right environment, tone, values and standards that guide and empower them is imperative for a healthy, harmonious and happy home.
Likewise, leaders who are vague about why they are in leadership or have no clear mission, vision and values for their organization; often breed chaos that lead to toxic cultures that ultimately bring down their organization.
Whether you are a parent or a business leader, having a clear vision of what you wish to accomplish and why, empower you to be efficient and effective in decisions making.
In his book,'The Five Dysfunctions of a Team', Patrick Lencioni writes that accountability avoidance is one of the key factors why great teams are either unproductive or remain in mediocrity.
Think of the parents who hardly discipline their child? The child grows up to become a challenge not only to them, their siblings if any but also to the society at large.
As a leader it’s your job to hold your team accountable whether you like this part of your job description or not. For to increase productivity, performance and profits don’t just happen.
Similarly, rising children to become responsible adults means that as a parent you are willing to show and hold the child accountable always.
Effective communication is critical to getting your point across whether you are a parent or otherwise. Great communicators are said to simplify their message and then go hard over communicating it.
Over communication is how a toddler learns the ABC. Repetition is therefore your true pathway to getting your vision, mission and values to the hearts and minds of your stakeholders.
As a leader (parent) it’s your job to keep engaging your team (children) on a daily basis in order to advance your vision. In her talk, ‘Hire A Mom! How 10 Years At Home Made Me A Better Leader At Google', Martha Ivester shares how being a mom helped her become more valuable in the workplace upon her return in post motherhood.
Praise, Recognition & Feedback
If you ever spend sometime with a three year old you know they detest help, are suckers for praise and recognition. They love to show you that they can do it all by themselves. To which a great parent then responds in praise and cheers about the great job done.
From then on, this becomes a feedback loop that guides the child to discoveries, and if encouraged consistently becomes a great enhancer to the child’s growth and development for a lifetime.
Interestingly, the workplace is no difference. According to Daniel Pink’s Book 'Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us' innovation comes when we choose to pursue unique initiatives that matter to us. Products such as Google’s Gmail or 3M’s Post IT-Note were born from such discoveries. Underscoring the power of autonomy, motivation and purpose—attributes that are innately human regardless of age.
Your role as a leader (parent) is to figure out what motivates your team (child), and then create an environment that supports that. Building a culture of praise, recognition and feedback allows you to measure what is successful as well as learn and tweak as your teams’ needs grow.
The New World of Work
Today’s workforce is faced with unprecedented challenges. Some are unique to our generations while others are part of life. A recent article by McKinsey cites that navigating the future of work will require: resilience, learning as a skill, leaders who can manage and influence talent in a digital and data ubiquitous world, promote well-being, stress management and meaning as key priorities.
Accordingly, the demand for managers to shift their management styles to coaching so as to influence the overall output more comprehensively is a must. Coaching while is the preferred mode today; it’s very time consuming and requires different orientations.
A Harvard study titled, ‘The Leader as Coach’ adds that coaching can be highly energizing for those being coached, but it doesn’t come naturally to most managers who tend to be more comfortable in “tell” mode.
Best parents are coaches and so are the best leaders. After all, people learn best when they have a genuine sense of belonging, feel safe, respected and supported. True for both a 3 and 35 years old.
Parenting by nature requires mundane repetitive check-ins to reinforce the expected behavior e.g. develop routine, personal agency etc. Likewise, a great coach sets goals, a clear path of execution, and then holds the one they coach accountable to ensure transformation.
Evidently, the ultimate goal of a parent is to raise a healthy, strong and responsible child—one who’s able to handle almost anything that life throws. At best, helping your child develop and embrace the personal agency is not only good for you and your family but for the world at large.
Read more: Inculcating A Sense of Agency Unto Children To Be A Good Leader
Equally, the best leaders aim at helping those they lead learn to resolve and own challenging situations on their own no matter how uncomfortable that maybe—personal agency.
Raising responsible kids require patience, tenacity, agility, continuous learning, admitting you don’t know it all, adaptability and the will to create an environment where your child feels empowered to reach their potential.
As a result, children brought up in a family where a culture of excellence incubate skills such as agility, authenticity, responsibility, innovation, meaning, a sense of belonging and personal agency benefits not just their employers but the world at large.
Great parenting is the cradle of society’s progress. For instance, in today’s workforce, many talents especially woman are said to be struggling with the imposter syndrome—a condition that describes high-achieving individuals who, despite their objective successes, fail to internalize their accomplishments and have persistent self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a fraud or imposters.
A common feeling that many parents, especially new parents share, noting that the incessant mind chatter, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ is a self-esteem killer and a present-day malady affecting some of the most successful talent. Thus making it worse for such parent’s child.
To overcome this energy sucking feeling, learn and embrace being human. Remember no one is perfect. Resist comparing yourself with others. Acknowledge your feelings and doubts openly by sharing with a trusted friend or a coach. Last but not least, own your power or what I refer as ‘embracing all of who you are’—your good, your bad, your ugly and in between.
Congratulations! You now know how to manage the imposter syndrome for your well-being and performance. Subsequently, you can boast to have some empathy able to help your struggling colleagues or those you lead. Not to mention, if your child faces the same challenge you are well equipped to nip it in the bud. Thereby, helping contribute to the overall well-being of the future workforce—a benefit not only to the prospective employer but also to the society at large.
Parents are leaders. Leaders are parents in many cases, and thus hard to separate the two roles. True leadership starts when your motive to lead is in the right place. Both parenting and leadership are about influencing another’s action. An impossible adventure if one is not humble or willing to sacrifice for those they lead.
Understand that children learn best through observation, and although those you lead at work are not children, you will need to inspire action for innovation, collaboration and success. Recognizing that your teams’ innate need for autonomy, mastery and meaning yields you competitive advantage against competition.
To supplement the above article on parenting, watch Yvonne Sum speak about how leadership qualities actually develop and grow from the time you are a child. It all goes back to the people you interact with as a child. Watch all three episodes here, brought to you by Leaderonomics Media.