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How kids build our leadership muscles

How kids build our leadership muscles

by Moyra Mackie on April 5, 2014

This weekend my eldest son turns eighteen.  So I’m in reflective mode.

Of course it makes me feel OLD.  And I’m asking myself, “How on earth did that happen?  How can I be the mother to an adult when I still feel like I’m finding my way?”

It makes me think that the most important leadership role we ever take on is the one we have as a parent

Just like leading in corporate life, we get a real live person to take care of without a manual, a training course or a coach to help us out.

I frequently (half) joke with my clients that becoming a parent helped me hone my skills when dealing with corporate (mis) behaviour.

Only these bouncing bundles of soft skin, gorgeous smiles and sleepless nights are a whole lot more expensive than an MSc in coaching or behavioural change from a top notch business school.

So for what it’s worth these are the things that connect what I do at home with what I do at work.

These are my leadership lessons

Listen more than you speak

Just because you have a greater vocabulary, doesn’t mean you should use it. We learn the most in our first two years on earth and I’m convinced that’s because we’re not distracted by oratory.

Adults lose the listening habit. Wouldn’t it be great if we all listened to learn?

Value difference and support performance 

My son has always looked older than his age.  So when he could walk at 11 months, but not talk, other adults expected him to say “please” and “thank you” and I remember saying “He’s not yet one.”

When was the last time you supported your team members in the face of unrealistic expectations?  And do you notice how high performers (like early walkers) are expected to master other – sometimes unrelated – tasks naturally?

Wouldn’t it be great if we valued the differing stages of development and worked to support mastery?

See the long view

We accept that our children are a two-decade project (or more) yet allow ourselves to get fixated on short term targets at work.  It always strikes me as strange that leadership courses focus on strategy and then executives go back and set quarterly and weekly targets.

Wouldn’t it be great if we realised that real growth and sustainable success don’t fit into a short-term schedule?

Sticks don’t work, and carrots are more about patience and acceptance

When my son was about eight or nine he used to get really angry and storm about the house slamming doors.  Shouting and punishments didn’t turn out to be winning leadership responses.

Lying next to him at bedtime (both of us looking at the ceiling,) and asking him what he wanted me to do to help him when he got like that, did.  Answer:  Help me to calm down.

What also helped was brainstorming words that he could use instead of disturbing the peace.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could accept that “bad” behaviour at work is a form of communication and that our role as leaders is to understand how to change the behaviour, not punish it?

Model the way

This is one of Kouzes Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary  Leadership, and one all parents and leaders should take to heart.

If, for example, we want our kids or our staff to recognize or apologize for their mistakes, then we need to go there too.  It’s not about being perfect.

Wouldn’t it be great if we saw more leaders admit their fallibility and fears and asked for help?

It’s what you do, not what you say

Of course, words matter.  Careless words can be hurtful words.  But really, leaders are followed because of how they are, how they show up, what their emotional energy is telling us beneath the words.

So if we don’t practice what we preach it makes sense that we lose our credibility as leaders and respect as parents.

Wouldn’t it be great if leaders got rewarded or promoted by how they treated people?

And finally…

Invest the time

Parenting and leadership are hard work.  Using power, authority and control can seem the easy option but being patient, understanding and persistent is far more rewarding.  And this takes hours of face-to-face and side-to-side time.

I’m reminded of the comment of a client of mine – a CTO – who worked with me to develop his team.  At the end of the project he said “This people stuff is damn hard, but really fun.”

Which is how the last eighteen years have been.

 Would love you to leave a comment about your experiences and what you have learnt. Any other parallels and any tips??


Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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