Volume #34 - June 2003

In the US we celebrate Mother's Day in May and Father's Day in June, which prompted me to select the topic of leadership and parenting for this newsletter. Probably one of the most difficult jobs in the world is to be a good parent - to raise kids and help them develop so that they grow up into happy, emotionally healthy, responsible and intelligent adults who can contribute to the world. Leadership, too, is one of the most difficult jobs. In the workplace, it's the job of leaders to help develop employees, to assist them in growing and building their skills so that they can be fulfilled in their work and be responsible, intelligent contributors to the organization.

When I coach people around developing their leadership, I tell them that in the process they'll also become better parents. Often clients are surprised when I say this, but I've had numbers of clients (interestingly they tend to be men) who tell me that they have become better parents transferring the skills they are learning at work through coaching to the home front.

So, let me share with you the ways in which leadership and parenting overlap so that you can raise awareness about your own skill set and recognize what you do well at home can apply at work, and what you do well at work can apply at home.

Both parenting and leadership require vision. As a leader and a parent it's your job to transmit hope for the future, to hold out a vision of success. Your children and your direct reports will look to you for support in making that vision become a realty. You need to believe that your employees and your children can develop their intelligence and their skills and become productive individuals who will contribute to a greater good. You need to transmit that belief to them. They will rely on you to keep that hope and belief alive even in stressful times. You are their pillar of strength. They pick up your energy. So you must be able to create and sustain a positive vision for them that contains the possibilities of all that they can become. You will need to do this through good times and bad. So even when things are tough it's up to you to hold out the vision for better times and provide the grounding for them to make their way through the challenges they are presented with.

Both parenting and leadership require passion, determination and commitment. As a parent and a leader you must be committed to the growth and development of your children and your people. This means you must also be willing to make sacrifices to help them get where they need to go. A true leader like a good parent puts his or her followers ahead of himself. This requires determination on your part - it's not easy to make sacrifices and to stay committed when so many other issues demand attention. Having passion about your family and your work provides the juice that's necessary to keep your determination and commitment batteries charged.

Both parenting and leadership require the ability to motivate and inspire children and employees to accomplish their goals. At home as well as at work, research indicates that positive reinforcement rather than punishment is the best way to motivate and inspire. As a leader and a parent you need to understand what motivates your employees and your kids so that you can interact and communicate with them in a way that reinforces their belief in themselves and inspires them to do well. In the process of building teams and families, it's your job to nurture the development, growth and learning of team and family members. One of the best ways to inspire others is by providing a good example. You need to role model the behaviors you are seeking in them, to inspire them to develop the characteristics of an emotionally healthy, productive adult and leader.

Both parenting and leadership require being directive and collaborative. As a leader and a parent you need to know when to give an order and lay down the law holding employees and kids accountable for their actions and when to be collaborative and come to consensus about decisions and actions. As a parent and a leader you will need to allow kids and employees to grow at their own speed, to make choices themselves, and to make mistakes from which they can learn. But sometimes you will also need them to simply follow your orders whether they want to or not. It's your job to be decisive and to determine which method is at any given time, to project confidence in your choice, and to make sure your actions back up your choice.

Both parenting and leadership require trust and integrity. Your children and your employees need to trust that you will do what you say you will do. They need to feel confident that you will support them and give them what they need. They need to believe that you are grounded and confident, and that you have good boundaries which they can't take advantage of. They need to trust that they can count on you to act with integrity regardless of the situation. If you act with ambivalence, avoid issues of significance, or dance all over the place, you do not impart integrity and you'll nip away at your kids and your employees ability to trust you. Trust and integrity also mean that you are honest with them and with others. They are watching your behaviors to learn from you. Dishonesty confuses them and leaves them feeling vulnerable and unsafe.

Both parenting and leadership require clear, consistent, two-way communication. As a leader and a parent you need to listen to what your employees and your children are saying, to hear between the lines, to understand their perspective, to act with empathy, to encourage and champion them, to set expectations with great clarity, and to give immediate constructive feedback. Your actions need to match your words, so it's your job to listen to their needs, to be consistent in the messages that you give, and to back those message up with appropriate actions.

Both parenting and leadership require emotional intelligence. Whether you are a parent or a leader, you need to be intelligent about emotions - your own and others. When you act with emotional intelligence you know how to control your own emotions and you know how to handle the emotions of others. This requires a great deal of self-awareness and self-confidence. If you don't know how to manage your own emotions you set a poor example for your kids and your direct reports. When you act out or when you don't know how to handle their emotions, it undermines their faith and confidence in you. Whether they admit it or not, both kids and employees want you to be grounded and in control. So as a parent and a leader you must behave rationally and have self-confidence in order to build their self-confidence and their self-awareness.

Both parenting and leadership require a positive attitude as well as flexibility. As a leader and a parent your kids and your employees will respond better to you if you have a positive attitude, are upbeat and approachable. People respond better in happy environments where they feel safe and respected. You need to demonstrate flexibility and a positive, can-do attitude in adapting to whatever a situation might present. Even during difficult times, they need to know that they can count on you to see the positive and guide them through turmoil. As a parent and a leader you need to create safe environments. During tough times, your children and employees need to be able to see possibilities at the same time that they are acknowledging the feelings of sadness, anger or loss that accompany negative events. So it's your job to help your children and your employees adjust to changing times and events and to see the good possibilities. Again, your actions role model for them how to handle the challenges and changes that are a part of life at work or at home.

9. Both parenting and leadership require authenticity. Whether you are a parent or a leader your values impact the people who depend on you. If you are not in touch with your values and living and working according to them, you will send out mixed messages. When we don't operate with authenticity, we don't find happiness and fulfillment. We might end up appearing successful on the surface but we won't be successful in our own hearts. If you're not authentic in your parenting you'll screw your kids up in some way. If you're not authentic in your leadership, you'll screw your team up in some way. You might not understand why and you might blame your kids or your team for what's going wrong, but the real cause is your own inability to operate according to your values and to impart those values to the people who depend on you.


  1. What do my employees think of my leadership abilities?
  2. What do my kids think of my parenting abilities?
  3. What overlapping areas of leadership and parenting have I not previously recognized?
  4. What areas do I need to work on?
  5. What do I need to do to make my skills more transferable?

Copy © 2003 Virginia O'Brien All s Reserved

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