The Relationship of Parenting and Managing

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The Relationship of Parenting and Management

My son has a wicked awesome memory. Once he sees something he very easily retains it. He recently won his school spelling bee (proud parent moment alert). I knew he was capable of this accomplishment, but there was one simple issue my wife and I faced in the weeks leading up to the competition. We had to force him to study every single day to get him there. It’s not that he didn’t want to win. He talked constantly about his dream of being the spelling bee champ. But when it came down to watching Youtube videos or studying spelling words, his default choice was to fry his brain in front of the computer. I tried reinforcing how talented he was at spelling and what great chances he had given his ability. I tried highlighting the “fame” of those that made it to the National Spelling Bee. Things like ESPN, scholarships, travel. He seemed very excited at the thought of it all, but did he take it upon himself to study more? Not really. What was I missing?

“Being a parent is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain.” – Martin Mull

I had a similar story arise with one of my clients a couple of years ago. He had just hired his first employee, Chad. Chad was very excited about joining a small team and about the opportunity to be at the grass roots of a business looking to grow. My client knew it would certainly take some work to get Chad where he wanted to be. My client discussed the possibilities and laid out his plan for what they needed to do. In addition, he scheduled a weekly chat session with him where he would also help guide and coach him along the way. Interestingly, Chad always seemed to come up a little short of expectations. He became increasingly frustrated with his apparent lack of success. It wasn’t that he wasn’t smart or capable by any means, but clearly there seemed to be some type of disconnect about the opportunity at hand. Why wasn’t he seeing it?

Always Easier Said than Done

Many people probably either have a lot of questions or potential answers for the scenarios above. Even as I am sitting here writing I can pick apart my decision-making or my client’s as to what could have been done better. We all have our examples like these where our own personal desires make us see things differently in the moment and we have a misguided perception of how to motivate others. Given that these are common mistakes in our lives, how do we make them the exception rather than the rule?

Building Up vs Borrowing from Authority

My biggest ah-ha moment on this subject came when I read Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” He wrote a story about a parenting conundrum he had recently faced. As his daughter was refusing to share her toys with her friends, he went through the usual parental fiasco. He started with a nice request, followed by an attempt at reasoning. Next was a small amount of bribery and then an outright stern demand. The takeaway from this story was quite profound for me. When analyzing the situation he realized that his actions were driven more by an insecurity about what other parents around might think and his personal desire to have a “well-behaved,” friendly young daughter. He wasn’t taking his own daughter’s personal development or feelings into account. Instead of patience and understanding in this moment, he borrowed strength from his position of authority to get the result he wanted. Borrowing strength builds weakness in the borrower because it reinforces dependence upon external factors to get things done.

Communicate Values

So the real denominator here isn’t being a parent or a manager. The true challenge lies in influencing autonomous people to do things they may not naturally want to do or see the value in. Extrapolating upon the Covey example, we can understand why our authority weakens as children get older. As they develop their own sense of who they are and aren’t, they are less subject to our manipulation or authority over their actions. The key is to align mutual values so when a particular need or situation arises, you can have a common language as to the proper course of action. With children or with employees, this is an ongoing process of communication and education. We get more time to make this happen with our children. However, when it comes to hiring we get the benefit of choosing those who might more closely align with our values from the beginning.

Start with Why

This is where Simon Sinek’s “Start’s with Why” concept comes into play. Few people want to do work for the sake of work. If the only motivation for a person at a job is to make money then that person takes a lot of “management” or manipulation. We encounter the same result with a child that is being forced to do something they don’t want to do. The core concept of Sinek’s argument is that whether dealing with your customer or your employee, being direct, open, and honest about your values is the key to harmony.

Bribery, appeasement, and manipulation only bring short term wins that eventually lead to long term losses. Authority results are best for menial, task-oriented requests, but diminish as the work becomes more creative and cognitively based. We could instruct an employee to build a complex feature for a website or put giant stacks of paper in 100 boxes. A capable person can un-inspiringly do the latter while the results could be appallingly lackluster for the former. Leading with authority also means that you will constantly have to give orders to make anything happen.

Authority vs Purpose

Long term success comes from influencing with purpose and values instead of authority.

Final Thought

After years of thought I have finally come to a conclusion that am willing to admit…parenting and managing are the same. This may sound like a demeaning comment to adults that have a boss, but we must be willing to examine why these actions are the same. Quite simply, it boils down to getting another human being to do something that you believe is for their greater good. The key to your success is knowing how to influence someone in the best way possible.

A Relationship is a $1M Account

A relationship with another person is like a million dollar bank account. You are either growing it or depleting it with any given interaction. Sometimes that bank account may start with very little and it’s your job to build it from the ground up. Successful methods to make deposits in this account are conversations, building trust, asking questions without giving orders, instilling a sense of higher purpose, flexibility…all the things we would want someone to do for us. We are all subject to human frailty, and at times we just need something done and don’t feel we have the time to do all or any of the above. Try to avoid these situations and remember that when we fail to engage in these discussions with others we are making withdrawals. And just like a good ole’ bank, no one is going to give you a loan on benefit of the doubt when you don’t have any collateral in the bank.


Getting Better at Both

The more I understand and evaluate the relationship between these two seemingly very different concepts, the better I can be at both. If I wouldn’t do it to my child then I probably shouldn’t do it to someone I manage and vice versa. I don’t know about you, but $1M sounds like the right way to go in any context. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this and I hope it proves to be helpful. Good luck in both arenas.

Thanks for reading.


Russel "The Backboard"

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