Parent as a leader. Lead like a parent.

Imagine starting to work for a gentle boss. Probably a dream in the beginning. Someplace where everything is soft, everything is nice. There is no pain, no gain. Nothing at stake. No real consequences whether you (or your colleagues) deliver or not, you come on time or not. Would you last long there? Would that team thrive?

Many people run away from disconfort / pain because they don’t understand its purpose. Athletes embrace pain. People who have a clearly defined goal, accept pain and discomfort as a given. So why then we overprotect our kids from that? When society today promotes heavily gentle parenting, first thing that comes to mind is permissive vs. firm. I am all for a gentleness of spirit, a calm approach to difficult situation, kindness, moderation. But those don’t replace fairness, truthfulness, accountability.  

Gentleness as a goal in leadership would be confusing. If our main goal is to not offend, to not hurt anyone’s feelings, we may beat around the bush, instead of focusing on telling the truth, and getting to the bottom of a problem, even if it’s uncomfortable. 

It is a myth that if you choose your team you can work better with them. Most often leaders are promoted to a role, stepping into job with clear expectation to manage a project and lead some people. Being promoted from within has its own set of issues, like authority among peers after rubbing shoulders with them and being equals. 

As parallel, parents don’t choose their kids. But even if they did, it wouldn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. We all change, we evolve, we are beings with free will. And trust is something we build and maintain. 

When I look at my role as a parent from the leadership perspective and the experience I have, I exhale a sigh of relief. I am aware of the disconfort of leadership. I know there is always push back. And when I have to make unpopular decisions, I won’t go back on my word just to appease my people. I pursue integrity, and trust comes with not going back on my word. 

The other day Conrad told the girls there is no movies or cartoons for a week. It was during the school year so we didn’t watch all that much TV. On a rainy evening that week, the girls pleaded with me to let them watch something. Maybe they forgot, maybe they hoped I had forgotten. But I told them that their dad set a consequence and I will respect his decision. It is not damaging or oppressing them in any way. And I even said this with all the words: “I will not disrespect your dad, overruling his decision. And we will keep our word. Your dad and I are a team. I know it’s frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world.” That was the end of it. That short season of disconfort built something a lot more valuable in their core memory box. We follow through. We are a team. We keep our word.

Among the competences of a good leader are approachability, and I hope and believe my kids can come to me with any concerns or problems they have. 

Negotiating and motivating others. Kids are sharp negotiators. I have learned to go a few more rounds with them in reaching the best decision. On the other hand though, I have practiced at length motivating other adults to get on board with projects at work, communicating in a persuasive and clear way. Most often though, me pulling up my sleeves to do the work alongside them has been the key to gaining their trust. I wouldn’t do it with a time limit. I would work along side any of my team members or kids because early on I didn’t know any better way to motivate them to do the work. For the longest time I struggled to delegate though. But parenting has taught me and has given me the confidence to delegate better, without too many details or justification. 

I know my team the best now. And while they still stretch their skills set, and they have room to grown, I can rely on them to do certain things without supervision. “This needs to be done…” “Please do that by a certain time.” 

Before I was a parent I didn’t think I need to repeat myself.

Once was to tell you want you need to do.
A reminder was a stretch.
If I had to say it a third time we had a problem.

My boss jokingly said that I come across as very intimidating when I expressed my expectations regarding not repeating myself. Well, parenting has taught me the most valuable lesson in leadership. I am still communicating as clearly and persuasively as I can the first time. Sure enough my kids don’t listen well enough, or they don’t have the capacity to remember so well all the details. And I lowered my standards or expectations. But much like a leader, I stop all the distractions, I look my kids in the eyes and explain what needs to be done. I now use this phase often enough “let’s try again…” (with a better attitude, with focus, with a desire to succeed, with a full tummy or a good night sleep, with all the resources you might need). I have learned grace because the goal is bigger. The overall development of my kids is more important than accomplishing an imediate task. And yet, success is made up by many small accomplishments. Self confidence is built with self reliance and trying and failing and trying again. 

I am not a soft or permissive parent. And I have mixed feelings about the term “gentle parenting”. Because I am more of a firm parent. Through the last two decades I have learned to be warm and loving, hopeful and confident, available and clear in setting boundaries. I have made a ton of mistakes, I am sure. I have been too strict at times, and I have backpedaled some. I grow in leadership alongside my kids’ development. Often we go back to the essence, to values, to our core beliefs. 

As my preteen daughters can express themselves with confidence, I now hear their affirming feedback with more clarity and poise. Often I hear them assess the leadership skills of other parents. For them, the lack of boundaries is a clear sign of weakness. And they can easily point it out.