Leadership and Parenting; what they have in common.



Good parents are also good leaders.  Maybe it’s good leaders are also good parents?  Whenever I read parenting books it strikes me the concepts are very applicable to my adult relationships.  It’s ironic the things my kids like most about me is also what works best in my adult relationships.  Inversely the things my children would like me to change are also characteristics that show up in all areas of my life.

My husband recently sent me an article “How to raise happy kids – 10 steps backed by science”.  These are not only great parenting techniques but they are great leadership qualities.  Families emulate teams in an organization.  A healthy business culture is just as important as a healthy family structure since many of us probably spend more time with our work families than we do our biological ones.

The article attests that happier kids are more likely to turn into successful and accomplished adults.  Therefore, happier employees are more likely to be successful and accomplished workers.

“…happiness is a tremendous advantage in a world that emphasizes performance. On average, happy people are more successful than unhappy people at both work and love. They get better performance reviews, have more prestigious jobs, and earn higher salaries. They are more likely to get married, and once married, they are more satisfied with their marriage.”

Step 1: Get Happy Yourself

A happy parent/leader is more likely to produce a happy culture both at home and at work.

So it stands to reason that an unhappy leader is more likely to produce “negative outcomes” in the workplace.  Team members are more likely to act out, which is a negative reaction at an attempt to be noticed and get their needs met.  Work places that have lot’s of drama, gossip, back biting, tattle telling and reactive behavior are a symptom of unhappy leadership.  This can be as simple as leaders that are insensitive, unavailable, task oriented vs relationship builders, and ‘do as I say leadership vs do as I do’.

We can’t tell our children ‘get happy’ anymore than we can tell our workers to ‘get happy’.  As parents and leaders we must demonstrate the behavior we seek in others.

“Because laughter is contagious, hang out with friends or family members who are likely to be laughing themselves. Their laughter will get you laughing too, although it doesn’t even need to in order to lighten your mood. Neuroscientists believe that hearing another person laugh triggers mirror neurons in a region of the brain that makes listeners feel as though they are actually laughing themselves.”

Good leaders laugh often!

Step 2: Teach Them To Build Relationships

It doesn’t take a lot. It can start with encouraging kids/teams to perform small acts of kindness to build empathy. 

This not only builds essential skills and makes people more empathetic toward others,  research shows over the long haul it makes them happier.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who were trained to provide compassionate, unconditional positive regard for other MS sufferers through monthly fifteen-minute telephone calls “showed pronounced improvement in self-confidence, self-esteem, depression, and role functioning” over two years. These helpers were especially protected against depression and anxiety.

Happy leaders that focus on what is right with their teams will produce more confident employees.

Step 3: Expect Effort, Not Perfection

Relentlessly banging the achievement drum creates pressure and leads to poor performance.  If people feel no matter what they can’t please their leaders, then they are likely to give up trying.  They will become focused on what they can get from the company and may mirror back a lack of concern for the team.  In order to have a caring team, leaders must show they care by their actions, where they put their focus, the time they spend getting to know their team and encouraging their teams to actively participate in the process.

“Parents who overemphasize achievement are more likely to have kids with high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to other kids.”

The research is very consistent: Praise effort, not natural ability.

“The majority of the kids praised for their intelligence wanted the easier puzzle; they weren’t going to risk making a mistake and losing their status as “smart.” On the other hand, more than 90 percent of growth mind-set-encouraged kids chose a harder puzzle.

Why? Dweck explains: “When we praise children for the effort and hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep engaging in that process. They are not diverted from the task of learning by a concern with how smart they might — or might not — look.”

Step 4: Teach Optimism

Want to avoid dealing with a surly teenager/employee? Then teach them to look on the bright side.

Author Christine Carter puts it simply: “Optimism is so closely related to happiness that the two can practically be equated.”

She compares optimists to pessimists and finds optimists:

  1. Are more successful at school, work and athletics
  2. Are healthier and live longer
  3. End up more satisfied with their marriages
  4. Are less likely to deal with depression and anxiety

Step 5: Teach Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a skill, not an inborn trait.

Thinking kids will just “naturally” come to understand their own emotions (let alone those of others) doesn’t set them up for success.

A simple first step here is to “Empathize, Label and Validate” when they’re struggling with anger or frustration.

Help others to identify what they are feeling and let them know that those feelings are okay (even though reactive behavior might not be).

In the workplace provide a safe environment for workers to share their frustrations.  Too often leaders attempt to tell their workers how they should feel.  Some of the most honest and profound feedback about what culture changes are needed can come from teams feeling safe to express discourse.

Leaders that ask for feedback and then take action on what they are told will produce better cultures.  Leaders that talk down to teams, over manage teams and don’t ask ‘what’ questions to bring teams into discussions are going to be exhausted because they will often feel like they are pulling teeth to get things done.

This is often seen in personality types that are task or results orientated.  They don’t allow others to make decisions but complain when people don’t take initiative.  If you want your teams to take initiative then you must praise their effort and ask a lot of questions.  Downloading on our teams is just as ineffective as downloading on our children.

Step 6: Form Happiness Habits

How do you help kids/teams build lasting happiness habits? Carter explains a few powerful methods backed by research:

  1. Stimulus removal: Get distractions and temptations out of the way. Gossip is the distraction at work.  When team members come with concerns about others do three things:  Ask them to explain what they think the other person was reacting to.  Ask them what they think their part is or what they could do differently.  Ask them what they need or would like from leadership to feel supported in shifting their reaction for the next time.
  2. Make It Public: Establish goals to increase social support — and social pressure.  As an example announce “we are shifting our culture and here are some things we are doing to make the work place more fun”.
  3. One Goal At A Time: Too many goals overwhelms willpower. Solidify one habit before adding another.
  4. Keep At It: Don’t expect perfection immediately. It takes time. There will be relapses. That’s normal. Keep reinforcing.

Step 7: Teach Self-Discipline

What’s a good way to start teaching self-discipline in the workplace?   

Spend more time on showing appreciation and praise.  When someone reacts negatively first support the team member that had to deal with the reaction. The person who reacts is actually rewarded when their negative reaction gets attention first.  We condition our work force to come to us with complaints by rewarding them with our undivided attention.  By  tuning into those that are doing well and focusing on them with ample praise, empathy and attention we shift our focus from “fixer” to “empathizer”.  The same works in our family.  Do not let the squeaky wheel get your time first!

When one of my children lashes out at another I empathize with the hurt child first.  This makes the antagonists have to wait for my attention.  It is often a first reaction of parents to scold the child acting out and ignore the other children. Shifting this pattern is powerful both in the workplace and at home.

Step 8: More Playtime

Most kids already practice mindfulness — fully enjoying the present moment — when they play, but kids today spend less time playing both indoors and out… All told, over the last two decades, children have lost eight hours per week of free, unstructured, and spontaneous play…

Playtime isn’t just goofing off. It’s essential to helping kids grow and learn.

“Researchers believe that this dramatic drop in unstructured playtime is in part responsible for slowing kids cognitive and emotional development… In addition to helping kids learn to self-regulate, child-led, unstructured play (with or without adults) promoted intellectual, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Unstructured play helps children learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions and behavior, and speak up for themselves.”

At work provide more fun activities.  Creative brain storming sessions that have no agenda.  An opportunity to share success stories.  A time to share personal philosophies and empower teams to deploy some of them with each other.  Start off meetings saying one nice thing about each team member is a great way to help others recognize the assets of their team members.  Make an effort to point out things the team did well.

Be happy.  Focus on building relationships vs putting out fires.  Reward effort. Teach optimism by being optimistic.  Teach emotional intelligence.  Form happiness habits.  Teach self discipline by focusing on what the team is doing well and responding to antagonists last not first.  Laugh often and provide opportunities for creative play.

This will take time to deploy and shift culture just as it will take time to cultivate within ourselves.  The result is we will be better leaders.  Leaders that lead by example, that work toward the change they want to see in their lives; shifts the focus from what is not working to what is working well.

Rule #62:  Don’t take yourself too seriously!  And better yet don’t take others too seriously.   We are all a work in progress.



This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Charlie

    Transformational leadership works everywhere…

    1. Larina Hintze

      You are a shining example of that -:). All your years of mentorship; changed lives!

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