Summer is winding down fast. Around our house, like so many others, that means gearing up for the school year ahead. It’s not too often my kids and my work cross paths in meaningful ways, and yet I can’t help but think of the uncanny relationship between the two. With two teenagers, a tween and a toddler in the house, I like to think I know a little bit about kids. The topic seems to pop up more often lately with my coaching clients as well, typically when conversations turn to triggers and derailers—or what makes them lose their lid—and their ability to show up in their “best light.” When push comes to shove, kids don’t really give a crap about your title, that new deal you just closed on or your brilliant strategic abilities. You might be a VIP at work who can get things done, but at home you feel more like a completely ineffective intern. All of this had me thinking of just how much our kids teach us about a few basics of being a really good leader:
Know your audience. This is numero uno in parenting and profession. It can be easy to fall into a one-size-fits-all approach, but one of the keys to successful parenting and leading is taking into consideration what makes your “audience” tick. Speaking to their personality, priorities and goals can unlock the secret to success. I parent my 17-year-old son much differently than my 14-year-old daughter—knowing what messages connect and what they each uniquely need from me based on who they are as people and not as “my kids.” Likewise, leading to the person will underpin your credibility and connection with direct reports, managers, clients and peers alike.
Be prepared for disruption. In business, your ability to operate in an agile and versatile way is critical. Creative problem solving, critical thinking and letting go of how it’s always been done will propel you forward as a leader. You may disagree, but I don’t know anything quite as disruptive as parenting. Today’s “techniques” are tomorrow’s surefire way to damage our offspring. And there is no language quite so dangerous in parenting or business as “that’s the way it’s always been done” or “it’s how I learned so it must be right.” Be open to the possibility of a new way of operating and viewing the world. Problems don’t always have obvious solutions, and when things seem to be going south, your knee-jerk explanations, excuses or rationale may be completely irrelevant. When I witness one of my kids acting out of character or completely irrational or my foolproof plan for creating the “perfect” family moment falls flat, I’ve started asking myself, “What’s that really all about?” By applying curiosity without judgment or panic or shame, I’m able to understand the core of what’s happening and why. Whatever solution or course-correction comes next is typically 10 times more effective than my in-the-moment reaction would have been.
Don’t micromanage. This one can trip up even the best of leaders and parents. It’s easy to focus on all that you know and have to offer. Your intentions are good—you want to share your wisdom in the spirit of efficiency and avoidance of mistakes you’ve already made (and hopefully learned from). But really you’re just robbing others of their own learning opportunity. Not only that, but micromanaging says, “I have all the answers. I’m smarter than you. I don’t trust you to get this done without tending to your every move.” Not the best messages to send to your kids or directs. The only difference is that your kids may actually tell you you’re an idiot, while your team may just think it. Keep yourself open to learning new ways of getting things done—you don’t have to be the expert at everything. The best times with my kids are when I let myself actually learn from them. It may not always be what I would have done or how I would have done it, but treating them like people with something distinctive to offer creates harmony and purpose for all involved.
Don’t postpone difficult conversations. Again, postponing can be easy to do in your role as leader and as parent. Awkward topics, unacceptable or odd behavior, feuding between siblings peers (see how similar?)—it can all be so easy to sweep under the rug or turn a blind eye to. We often think or hope everything will work itself out by some magic twist of fate. Not only does it not resolve itself, it likely festers and gets worse as time goes on. Pull yourself together, be courageous, stay positive and objective, and ask good questions in an effort to fully understand what you might be missing.
Do your best. Perhaps the most important lesson of all. Just do your best and forgive your mistakes. Perfect leaders and perfect parents just don’t exist—perfection is subjective anyway. What might wow one kid annoys the other. Same goes for leadership—you might be a “perfect” leader to one person but drive another completely insane. You cannot and will not be everything to everyone—adult or child—so stop trying. But keep doing your best. Someone told me once in my early years as a mother, “If you’re worrying about how you’re doing, you’re likely doing an amazing job.” Same goes for you, Mr./Ms. Leader—if you’re worrying about having the right skills, doing your best, and creating a meaningful impact on your organization and the people in it, you’re likely doing an amazing job.