How parenting skills can enhance our leadership & management styles.


It was only when I became a grandfather and watched my daughter with my grandsons that I came to realise how much of being a parent was similar to being both a manager and a leader in the world of work.  Earlier in life as a parent myself I had not realised this because I was too close to it, and I was in the dance rather than observing the dance.

I also realised that I was taught leadership and management skills from when I was a very young child.   By observing my parents, I was exposed to the theory of management and leadership. Planning ahead making sure that there were groceries in the press, making sure we were getting an education and planning for our careers.   Let’s take a timeout and explore the similarities with a view to building our confidence and competence in both areas.

As I was writing this blog entry, I came across the following quote from Dee Dee Myers,

“I am endlessly fascinated that playing football is considered a training ground for leadership, but raising children isn’t.”

I totally disagree with this quote and intend to demonstrate how in fact raising children is of equal importance as football in providing a training ground for leadership.

I have always found Peter Drucker’s insights to be very accurate. He once said that management is doing things right — improving operational performance, maximizing revenues etc. While leadership is doing the right things — setting organizational priorities and allocating human and fiscal resources to fulfil the organization’s vision.

As I reflected, I realised that the issues and challenges that I have faced as a manager and as a leader over my career have been the very same ones that I faced as a parent. It also became very apparent that we role model the behaviours that both our children and our team exhibit.  When we look at these two roles six lessons jump out as being very similar in both.


Six parenting lessons that translate to the board room

  1. Always have their back
  • Children take it as an implicit element of the relationship that as their parents, we will always be there for them. While they are playing, they will often look to see if you are there not because they need you, they just need to know you are there for them.
  • It is the same with our team members when they know you are there for them, they are more comfortable taking that stretch or risk, because they know you have their back.
  • Show them and tell them that you are there for them. Let them know.
  1. It’s about constant feedback
  • When we watch our children at work or at play, we are constantly giving them support and guidance through feedback. A baby is starting to walk we encourage through our words and our nonverbal communication.  As a child is playing with Lego you might make suggestions on piece that they might use to build that rocket they were imagining.
  • Our team members also need that support and feedback from us on what they are working on. Because of our relationship with them we sometimes do not find it as natural to give that feedback but see it as a necessary part of our role.  I have found a very simple model from the world of Agile that I use to frame my feedback to others.  I discuss the things they are doing that they should continue doing,  I identify some other things they should consider starting to do and finally I identify things that I would suggest they stop doing.
  • Both our children and our team will grow from our support and our sharing of our knowledge and wisdom that we have developed over time.
  1. Each one of our children is different
  • Our children engage with the world around them in different ways, it is important as parents that we create structure which gives them comfort, security, and a set of boundaries in which they can operate. We adjust according to their preferences.  Some need more structure, some need more flexibility, some need a lot more encouragement and others need to be let get on with it.  By observation we learn about our children’s needs very early in their lives and we have better interactions when we adapt our approach accordingly.
  • As a manager/ leader, looking at our team the same can be said. We need to adapt our approach based on their preferences.  We might not always have the same natural understanding of their preferred way of working.  This is where tools like MBTI, Insights and Social Styles help us understand these preferences.
  • It is our duty to both our children and teams that we create an environment where then can be their best.
  1. Creating structure, routine, and schedules
  • Our children engage with the world around them in different ways, it is important that as parents that we create structure which gives them comfort, security, and a set of boundaries in which they can operate.
  • Teams and individuals within teams also need the autonomy to work in a fashion that best works for them. We all have our own preferences for how we prefer to operate.  As leaders and managers, we need to provide structure and a set of boundaries for our team to operate within, we give them that freedom to develop, stretch and grow
  • In both roles of parent and leader we have a duty of care to those around us who look to us for guidance. By structure and outer boundaries, we are provided a safe place for them to strive.
  1. Put on your own mask first
  • When we listen to safety briefings on aircraft, we are always told to put on our oxygen first. When you stop to think about it, it makes so much sense.  You will be no good to anybody if you cannot breathe.  When your children are new-born they do not sleep for very long periods.  You learn very quickly that you are not on your best when you operate on that same schedule.  You have to consciously adapt to be at your best.  It may be sleeping during the day when the baby does.  It may be sharing workloads and sleep patterns with your partner.  The basic rule being if you do not take care of yourself you will not be able to take care of your child.
  • Our engagement with our teams is exactly the same. While we often find it difficult not to prioritise our team’s needs (as this is our role after all), we have to ensure that we take care of ourselves.  We need to create our space as well.  We need to ensure that we have support structures in place for ourselves as well as our team.
  • We are no good to our children, or our team if we are not in a good place, if we are stressed out or if we are burnt out.
  1. Delegate household tasks to develop
  • For some of us as parents there is a temptation to do everything for our children. But we know that we are not doing them any good in the long run if we do this.  When they leave the nest and create their own life outside of our homes, they need to be able to look out for themselves, they need to be able to take care of themselves.  One way we can help them in this preparation is to let them practice and experiment in a safe environment that we have created using the previous five steps.
  • When you stay as the expert role with your team and do not delete work for whatever reason you may have, you are doing your team a disservice. You are not letting them grow into the potential that they have.
  • We need to sit through the frustration and the stress that can be created when we let others do the work. We need to do this so that they can grow and develop which in turn will free us up to the things that we need to be doing.


In conclusion what can leaders and managers learn from parents?

The golden thread running through is the need for consciousness in our engagement with others.  We need to create an environment in which they can both develop and thrive.  This is achieved by being there for them and constantly giving them guidance on what is going well and what can go better.  It is about never forgetting that we need to create a perimeter in which they can operate.  We can only achieve this by looking after ourselves and creating the space for our own wellbeing while developing other’s abilities by delegating and supporting them in that delegation.