Managers and parents: Why being a boss isn’t much different than being a parent

As I consulted for a local charter school a few months ago I was discussing different leadership techniques with the principal. He was wondering why he was having so much trouble getting everyone in line, to listen and respect his authority, to follow his direction, etc etc. He was having a difficult time with this which was posing problems for the entire school as everyone was off doing their own thing and didn’t really have a specific direction to go. So I ask what he was doing to get people to follow his lead. To get people to respect him. To get people to listen. To get people to know what they’re supposed to be doing. He responded by basically saying he let them figure it out for themselves. Hmmm. Not good.

 

Why would people listen to you if you’ve never expressed your desire to lead? Why would they trust you if you haven’t demonstrated you should be trusted or followed? He understood his lax style of leadership was the root cause of a lack of direction for the school and the teachers. He explained he did not want to come across as “mean” or “bossy” and so he never really did much to establish his leadership. This is something I run into a lot in managers. They compensate for not wanting to rule with an iron fist by being weak and acting like a doormat. When I explained that this would be a really bad way to parent his kids he understood.

 

There are many reasons why “management styles” and “parenting styles” have the same categories. “Authoritarian,” “Authoritative,” and “Permissive.” There isn’t much difference in how you should parent and how you should manage. In both cases you are expected to set up rules, regulations, boundaries, expectations, and let the child/employee explore how to get there. When mistakes are made, you help them to correct them. But there is a a great medium ground between being permissive and authoritarian.

Being a “permissive” parent is like being Deena Lohan or Lynne Spears. You set no ground rules, let the employee/child figure things out on their own and offer no guidance when things go awry. You want to be their friend more than their boss/parent. You are however, not there to hang out and be buddy-buddy with them. Your job is to lead and direct. To set rules and discipline when necessary. Without this direction, the employee/child will become maladjusted, immature, and entitled.

An “authoritarian” parent is kind of like an Ike Turner or Michael Lohan (understand why Lindsay is so screwed up). They rule with the aforementioned iron fist. It’s their way or the highway. They are strict and punishing when the rigid demands aren’t met. This leads to children/employees who are gun-shy, mistrustful, and apprehensive to make any decision for fear that they’ll get their heads bitten off.

The nice balance of these two is having and “authoritative” boss/parent. This is Ward Cleaver. This is someone who allows you to make mistakes and figure things out on their own but will rein you in when those mistakes are made and help you re-correct your path. Expectations are laid out, rules are established, but some leeway is given for you to figure out how to get there. Being a good boss or a parent should be the same. Give some direction, lay out to your employees/kids what you want from them, how to behave what the laws of the land are, but allow room for growth and exploration for your kids/employees.

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