Sometimes being a manager can feel like you’re a parent to a whole company of children. My former boss, who didn’t have any biological children, used to say she had six kids–the exact number of people under her leadership. Ian Durston, father of three and author of Everything I Needed to Know About Management, I Learned From My Kids says being a father helped him improve his management skills.
Having kids made Durston more aware of the importance of the interpersonal side of leadership rather than simply focusing on the technical aspects and the process of being a manager. “It occurred to me that a large part of managing the team was about motivating the team and how I related to them and how they related to me in the same way as a parent it’s about establishing relationships with the kids,” he says. Durston shared a few ways his management style changed after having kids.
How do you get children to do their chores? Offer them a reward for a job well done, right? Well, Durston says the same applies to adults in a work setting. Durston realized his children were very visual, and set up a chart on the wall with sticky stars to show them how well they were doing toward reaching a goal. “When they got all the stars, I’d give them a treat at the end of the week,” he says. Recognizing how well this incentive program worked with his kids, Durston decided to provide written targets on the wall at the office, giving his team that visual stimulant and showing them what they were working toward.
“Kids are always looking to get away with things and see how far they can push the boundaries,” says Durston. Once Durston made it clear to his kids where his limits were, he found things moved much more smoothly. He says the same strategy applies to managing a team at work. “You have to make sure the team of people working for you understand your expectations and understand those lines as well,” he says.
Negotiating everything from when kids have to go to bed to what food they can have (no, you can’t have ice cream for dinner) is a common practice for many parents, but while you can’t give in to kids’ demands all the time, Durston says sometimes you have to let go–something he says is true in the boardroom as well. “Sometimes you have to maintain a hard line and not give in too easily, but at the same time you have to recognize that some things aren’t worth pursuing because they just aren’t that important.”
Kids are the best at knowing how to turn anything, from a pile of leaves to a cardboard box, into something fun, and they tend to listen better and do their chores when they’ve had a good time playing. The same, Durston says, is true at work. “People work much better when they’re happy,” he says. Bringing some fun into the office, he recognized, is an important part of the workday, something more and more companies are now recognizing.
“If you spend all your time telling children off and finding fault, it creates a very negative downward spiral,” says Durston. He recognized his children were much more responsive when he pointed out something positive that they had done, a tactic he decided to bring into the office. “I became more conscious of how people were performing and proactively finding things they were doing well,” he says.