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Parenting and Leadership

The best leadership book I’ve read this year is not about leadership. “The Self-Driven Child” is about being a better parent. Normally, I’m not a fan of guide books, especially parenting guide books. Over the last fourteen years as a father to four children, I’ve read dozens. But this one struck me as valuable, from both a parenting standpoint and as a guide to leading and motivating teams.

“The Self-Driven Child” also resonated with me because of a trend I discovered during my graduate school thesis research. When senior business executives were asked whom they looked to for leadership inspiration, in most instances they named family members or individuals from their personal life, rather than work colleagues.

The book’s authors combine cutting-edge brain science with insights from their work with families to outline the case for giving children more freedom to unleash their full potential. Many of their conclusions apply to teams.

My main takeaways:

  • Parents want their children to do well

  • A parent’s ability to stand back provides the best opportunity for children to grow and learn

  • Parents can offer guidance, experience, wisdom and knowledge, but should recognize that their truth does not always mean “THE truth”

  • Parents learn from children as much as children learn from parents

  • Children help parents grow as much as parents help children grow

  • A parent’s actions inform and influence their children’s lives

  • Sometimes, a child’s behaviors are a reaction to the parent’s behavior

  • The way parents speak to children becomes their inner voice

About halfway through, I started to substitute “leader” for “parent” and “employees” for “children.”

  • Leaders want their employees to do well

  • A leader’s ability to stand back provides the best opportunity for employees to grow and learn

  • Leaders can offer guidance, experience, wisdom and knowledge, but should recognize that their truth does not always mean “THE truth”

  • Leaders learn from employees as much as employees learn from leaders

  • Employees help leaders grow as much as leaders help employees grow

  • A leader’s actions inform and influence their employees’ lives

  • Sometimes, an employee’s behaviors are a reaction to the leader’s behavior

  • The way leaders speak to employees becomes their inner voice

As a parent—or as a leader—we are a part of the ecosystem in which our children—or employees—inhabit. With intentionality and humility, we can aspire them to be better. Not through pushing, cajoling or directing them to action. Rather, by being calm and consistent; through providing counsel when needed and requested, not when we think we should.

The commonality between parents/children and leaders/employees that resonated with me the most is this:

You don’t always know how good a job you have done until it is over. 

I remember watching my son make eggs one day. It took every effort not to help crack the eggs. Or pour in the oil. Or heat up the pan. Then, there was the hot stove! Mess! Danger!

Through observing without trying to intervene, responding briefly and supportively to his questions when they arose, I allowed him to develop the skills he needed to accomplish the task. And guess what? At eleven, he makes the best eggs in the house—and I get to enjoy them twice. On one level, the eggs themselves. On a second level, knowing that he made them on his own without my interference.

Great parents practice letting go every day. Great leaders do, too. Either at home or at work, you can, too. It’s never too late to start.

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