Leader as Parent, Parent as Leader
The more I lead, the more I work with leaders, and the more I parent, the more I see compelling parallels between leadership and parenting. Leaders are parents, and parents are leaders. They are in different settings with parallel roles. To illustrate this, here is an excerpt from a refreshing parenting book that was written by three children, Please Listen Up, Parents: 12 Secrets YOUR Kids Want YOU to Know. This excerpt addresses creating connections – on its surface this is also a clear priority for leaders. What is compelling is the parallel actions for parents and leaders even below the surface. As you read this, consider how you can apply these insights from kids to your own team at work and family at home.
Even though our technology helps us stay connected, it doesn’t mean we are really connecting. A family is made up of real connections: connections between individuals, connections to values, and connections to a bigger purpose.
Show us how to make connections with other people.
Remember, we learn by example. Let us see you talking to other adults at the playground, park, or museum. Nudge us to interact with other kids when we’re feeling shy. Show us that it’s OK to say “hello” and strike up a conversation. Offer to host backyard cookouts and sleepovers with our friends. Encourage us to go on group outings and field trips with our friends and their friends. It’s a great big world out there, and the more connected we feel to it, the better lives we’ll lead.
We also need to feel connected to our family values.
We’re navigating an endless stream of confusing messages from advertisers, coaches, friends, movies, teachers, TV, the Internet and more. Having clear family values keeps us grounded. Gen. Colin Powell once said, “The greatest gifts my parents gave to me were their unconditional love and a set of values. Values that they lived and didn’t just lecture about. Values that included an understanding of the simple differences between right and wrong, a belief in God, the importance of hard work, and education, and self-respect.” Our maternal grandfather and “family general” Ron Davis always says, “Family comes first, and they will always be there for you.” This phrase is more than just words for us. It helps to remind us of and reinforce our family’s values.
In addition to trying to live his values, our dad also wrote them down for us to make sure we knew them and had them in writing for safekeeping. Here are a few of them:
- Everything starts and ends with our relationships – with God first, then family.
- Respect the three P’s: people, property and perspectives. Leave people, places, and situations in a better condition than when you arrived.
- Do more than expected before it’s asked of you. Anticipate others’ needs, and take initiative. Think of others more than yourself.
- Give more grace to others than you think is necessary because, at some point, you will need more grace than you think you do.
- Perseverance and hard work beat natural talent every day. Our trials are God’s way of molding us into who He wants us to be.
When we’re not sure about what to do or how to feel in a new situation, sometimes we think about our family values to see if they can help. The values might not cover everything, but they usually do a good job of pointing us in the right direction.
It helps to discuss family values so we can each interpret what they mean to us. Also, keep them visible (usually in the kitchen) so the whole family can see them, refer to them and remember them, and hopefully, live by them.
We also need your help to begin to figure out how our gifts – artistic, athletic, comedic, intellectual, mathematical, musical, scientific, social, or anything else – can make the world a better place. We’re just kids, but understanding how and where we fit in the world is still really important to us.
Our dad once explained to us that sports equipment like golf clubs, tennis racquets and baseball bats all have a certain spot that, when a ball hits it, gives the best result. Hitting this sweet spot creates a long drive down the fairway, a swift crosscourt return, or a powerful homerun. When the ball hits that sweet spot, you barely feel it. The ball goes where you want it to go, even farther and faster than normal.
We need your help connecting to our sweet spot in life.
When we were little, you asked us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Now it’s time for the next step, which is, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Start by helping us answer two simple questions:
- What am I passionate about?
- Which tasks are easy and natural for me to perform?
You probably remember when you connected to your sweet spot in life. You knew you were “in the zone,” and other people acknowledged your skills and abilities. Maybe you connected to it when you were young, but it was probably a long process of self-discovery that lasted into young adulthood at least. So please don’t rush us. Watch for the right times to ask us these questions because those are the conversations that will help you understand us and really help us understand ourselves.
Help us explore new challenges and opportunities
Help us so we can discover gradually what we love to do and what we do very well. Maybe we didn’t have the right hand-eye coordination to connect with the ball. Maybe practicing the instrument for that long made our fingers hurt. Some of us stuck with it, got better, and excelled, while others realized that activity wasn’t for us. Maybe baseball wasn’t the right sport; maybe we’re better at soccer. Maybe the piano wasn’t the right instrument; maybe the bass guitar is a better choice. These are sports and music examples, but there are sweet spots in all areas of life, such as academics, service and leadership. Help us find our gifts and learn how to use them to make a positive difference in the world.
We might always want the latest technology to stay connected to the latest cool trends, music and events, but we want you to connect us to the things that really matter.
Create Connections: Ideas for Action
- Periodically host a get-together at your house for each of your children’s friends.
- Let your kids assist with adult or business gatherings at your house to give them an opportunity to socialize and interact with adults.
- Schedule a family meeting (maybe over pizza) to discuss your family values. Agree to three or four values and discuss what they mean to each of you as individuals and for your family.
- Tell your kids how you figured out what your sweet spot in life is. Were there other things you tried that didn’t work as well? What do you want them to try and why?
12 Secrets for Parents and Leaders
1: Keep things in perspective.
2: Accept us.
3: Be real.
4: Talk with us.
5: Create connections.
6: Be consistent.
7: Expect the best.
8: Encourage us.
9: Spread gratitude.
10: Take care of yourself.
11: Be present.
12: Live what you teach.
Please Listen Up, Parents: 12 Secrets YOUR Kids Want YOU to Know is written by kids for parents and leaders. It has dual application to the work front and the home front.