Leadership and parenting

Leaders are people who have influence. Whatever your personality type you probably have More influence than you think. 

In order to grow purposefully, it is best to be aware of the influence you DO have. Accept it. Embrace it. 

But before you ever lead anyone, you need to follow someone, and that first someone is your parent. 

Our parents had extraordinary influence over us. This might seem redundant to state, but I want to point out that the way our parents raised us, affects the way we lead today. It becomes a primal instinct.  

So what type of leader are you today? 

To answer that question think of your own mom and dad. How they took care of you, how they corrected you, or provided opportunities to develop. 

How did they listen to your concerns? Did they dismiss your opinions or welcomed and invited them? How did they love you? 

We will discover that we carry those traits with us and we will incorporate them in our leadership journey. 

But before you get too discouraged, reflecting on your own childhood, I want to state this: Our parents did the best they could with what they knew. They were not perfect. None of them were. And many of us worked hard to compensate for our parent’s leadership style or lack there of. In fact, some of the best leaders I worked with had experienced extreme hardship and from that brokenness they were able to become more empathetic and brave, good communicators, inclusive and approachable. 

That being said, Parenting to Leadership is not a one way street. It’s actually a loop where things we learn in one role we apply in the other, and so we continue to grow. 

Neither of my parents are charismatic leaders and they never pursued any public speaking engagements. As for me, I have been drawn to public speaking and I see it as a form of art. They were not promoted in roles of management or leadership. Yet both my brother and I held leadership roles in prestigious companies. We did not seek such roles. But looking back I realize we both had a passion for developing others and taking care of them, the way that was modeled quietly in my home growing up. 

But leadership is so much more than developing others. I had no idea how much heat is at the tip of the spear. And I did not know how to manage that type of visibility long term. I had to learn to enjoy the pressure and keep my cool as I went along. 

I personally embrace responsibility, I enjoy it actually, but to this day I dislike telling people what to do. I have to work really hard to be good delegator. I’m a work in progress. I am here to tell you that everything I learned in my job as a leader in the corporate world, I have applied in my job as a parent. Creating manageable tasks for the kids that can boost their confidence and help them develop skills of self-sufficiency, all that may double my work load today but over time it is actually pays off. For me and for them.  

So what business do I have talking about children or parenting at a leadership conference? Maybe many of you are not thinking about starting a family. Or everything is too fresh to have made time to reflect about your own childhood in retrospect. But everything is connected. And it is better to prepare for a leadership role before you are promoted to it. 

Consider the questions that kids ask about the adults around them:

  • Are you safe? 
  • Can I trust you? 
  • Can I follow you?
  • Are you approachable? 

Now think about these question in relation to your own boss, your elected official or your pastor.

We as adults have the same questions but we lose the ability to address them or to ponder them bravely when it comes to our leaders. Especially when the answer to some of the questions above is no. Because how do you reconcile that truth with your day to day reality? 

Even if often we are tempted to level the field and become equals to our kids or our employees, that is not what they need. And that is not approachability. They need to know that we can be reliable when things get complicated or hard or confusing. A good leader can also admit mistakes and apologizes. Just like a good parent learns to do.

Good leaders allow for concerns to be expressed, questions to be brought up, opposing opinions to be discussed. But when a decision needs to be made, the boss or the parent has the final say. And they take responsibility for the outcome. 

How does that make you feel? 

Have you had a parent, a leader or an elected official who made you feel like your opinion matters? How bout this: Have parents they made decisions that you disapproved of, but ultimately it was the right thing and it was good for you?

Oh my goodness, as parent I feel like I have to justify and convince my kids on a weekly basis about things that we have already agreed on. Basic things. 

Under pressure we revert to what comes natural, to our primal instinct in leadership, what we know from experience as kids. Being aware of it might help polish your leadership style.

That being said, I want to remind you of something you may have not thought about. Our FIRST leaders SERVED us. They washed our feet. They provided nourishment, they taught us to walk, and they gave us the tools to learn, grow and succeed. Again, to the best of their ability. 

We don’t really have any control over our kids. But we have influence. 

Our job is to take care of our people and not control the results. 

Our people are responsible for the results. Micromanaging is not leadership.

I am only responsible for their development, to help them feel safe, to provide them with opportunities and let go of control. 

Society tells us that motherhood (parenting) is a detour from our careers. A stop in our development. But when women (and men) raise children, they actually get their masters and PhD in leadership. Tested to the bone. Under pressure, long term and fully invested. Naturally (many) women have those leadership qualities that don’t take the centerstage. They do the work and don’t care too much about the recognition. Just appreciation.

In order to continue the work to thrive, we need the men in our lives: our fathers, our husband, our bosses to defend our boundaries, our rights, to encourage us to take care of ourselves and to rest, and to acknowledge our success. 

Parenting for mothers and fathers can be the most effective school of leadership but it can also be the biggest exam in leadership. It’s a lifelong learning to work under pressure, of making mistakes and learning from them.

You are not a leader only when someone gives you a title. You are a leader when you have integrity, well defined values and influence. Embrace your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses. It is never too early or too late to accept the value of good leadership.