Short Story: The Truth About What Parenting and People Management Have in Common

More than we realize.

I have been managing people longer than I am a parent. And although I sometimes joke that “I have a daycare at home so don’t want it at work,” the truth is parenting, and people management have a lot in common.

The subject is so vast that I could write an ocean of words in here but let me focus on five main themes.

1. When you start, you have no idea what you got yourself into.

Let’s break it down from the beginning. OK, so you are in love, think you can conquer the world, and you want to start a family. Nine months later a baby is born.

At work, you are an individual contributor, a rock star, crashing every assignment you get, ambitious and working towards a promotion. You become a new manager. Or you are a solo business owner, growing your precious baby to the point when you need help, more and more help. You have so much support at some point that you realize you spend more time telling people what to do than doing – yes – you became a leader too!

That’s when you start thinking OMG – I have NO IDEA what I am doing. Why?

Because the skills that got you to become a new parent, a manager or successful business owner are not the skills, you need to deal with the new reality.

Remember when you looked at your parents and your friends and thought “Oh that is easy! I can be even a better parent than them”. Or observed other managers around you before thinking “oh, those guys’ lives are sooooo easy, they barely do any work, I wish I can do that one day.” Then you became one or both and what? Being a parent or a manager, it’s not easy at all; it’s damn difficult.

Those who make it look easy from the outside are like prima ballerinas. Ballerinas train and sweat all their lives, go through strains and grueling hard work before they shine on the stage, with a smile on their face, making every move look effortless. And unless you try to do it yourself, it’s hard to appreciate the learning, effort and time that goes into achieving such mastery.

2. Kids and employees need safety, trust, and love

With all the research and great books written on parenting, I know I am stating the obvious here that kids need safety and love to develop and bloom. They do not require expensive toys, brand name clothes or the newest cool stroller. All they need is to feel loved, safe and supported. That’s how their curiosity, learning, and development will flourish.

It is not that different for your employees. They need to be able to trust you as their leader, know that you care about them as people and have their best interest at heart. They need to feel safe to make mistakes without retribution so they too can flourish, grow, and ultimately deliver the best work they can. They also need your guidance and support throughout their careers’ journeys.

We all know that no one only works for money. Once our basic needs are satisfied, what people look for in their work is meaning, feeling that they contribute to the greater cause and having a sense of connection.

Your job as a manager is therefore similar to that of a parent. As their leader, you are there for them – your kids, your employees. Your success as a parent or manager is all about growing others and helping them become successful.

 As Jack Welch says, “It’s no longer about you but about them.”

And with the above in mind, the third similarity follows.

3. How about respect and “tough love” from time to time?

Being a parent or a leader does not mean you will be liked by everyone all the time.

Having respect for your kids and employees means also wanting the best for them.  I have talked about managing with respect in my previous post, so I will just quickly touch on it here.

Respecting your kids and employees sometimes means that you need to be “strict,” give them “tough love” and not give them everything they want. You will be pushing them to do better. It also means being candid and giving them feedback they might not want to hear. Feedback without which they will not be able to grow and reach their best potential.

For sure, it is never easy. Telling people what they might not want to hear does not come naturally to us. We often deflect from having to do it by telling ourselves that “we do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” But this is just an easy excuse, our selfish way of trying to avoid feeling uncomfortable.

When we are candid with respect, having the best interest of the other person in mind, we are helping them. No one can improve without being aware of what they need to work on in the first place.

I love this quote from Thomas S. Monson that describes beautifully the point I am trying to make:  

“When we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are. When we treat them as if they were what they should be, they will become what they should be.”

4. Days spent parenting, and leading people never work out the way you plan

How many times were you trying to get somewhere on time with your toddler and a 5-year-old? You plan plenty of time to get everyone ready and halfway through the process; the toddler throws a tantrum cleaning his nose into your shirt while the 5-year-old decided to daydream playing dolls in her room and forgetting about the need to dress up. You are running out to the car already late, only to realize you missed to take the most important tutu in the world…

Leading a team is not that different. You are supposed to have a big demo for a client or a big project closeout meeting and the day of you find out that your employee has not finished the presentation they were supposed to prepare. While you scramble trying to think of plan B, the office network is down and you cannot access anything. And the clock is ticking …. Sounds familiar?

The truth is that we can never predict everything, and life happens. And there will always be opportunities to learn from our mistakes 😊; like with everything else, parenting and people management skills can be improved.

You can learn how to handle toddler tantrums from a great book or a parenting coach and then practice with your little one. You can also learn how to coach your team member on prioritizing and time management.

In other words, the more you learn about the subject, and spend time practicing your new skills, the better you get at them.

There is a fundamental difference though between parents and leaders at work that I want to point out.

As a parent, you have your kids’ unconditional love and never-ending patience with your mistakes. Your kids’ love gives you almost inexhaustible well of credits that you do not have as a people manager.

Being a good leader will give you respect, and trust credits from your team but they can be quickly exhausted if you abuse this trust. You also do not have the same amount of time for trials and errors that parents do. That’s why investing in yourself not only by reading books or asking other managers, but also investing in training, and other forms of self-development will help you fast-track learning the skills and become more successful in your role.

5. Last and the BEST.

The truth is that both parenting and people management are probably one the most challenging “jobs” ever. As leaders, we are the roles models. We are the people that our kids and employees look up to all the time, whether we realize it or not. We are dealing with human beings: beautiful, complicated and always changing.

But with great challenges come great rewards. The fulfillment, joy, and pride you have watching your kids and employees grow, develop and succeed are second to none.

And you know what else? Whether you see it or not, you grow as well.

Thanks to my kids I became more patient than I thought I could ever be 😊. Their curiosity and wonder remind me how beautiful the world around us is every day. Every day my employees teach me how incredible courage, care for one another and true teamwork is.

That is why the best thing about becoming a great leader is that it does not only benefit people we lead or the organization we work for but above all it helps us; we become a better person.

Only a life lived in the service of others is worth living” – Albert Einstein

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