While you may not have thought about it this way, parenting can be similar to managing employees in the workplace. Both are about leadership and both are built on high-quality relationships, says Julie Holliday Wayne, associate professor of business at Wake Forest University.
“Leadership has been defined as when a person guides, inspires, or influences another individual toward shared goals or objectives,” she says. “In the same way, parents guide, influence, and develop their children, often with the goal of them becoming capable, responsible members of their families, organizations, and communities.”
Your family “employees” are probably a lot younger (and more unruly), but applying the same techniques you would use at work could help you at home, as well. Here are eight things you do at the office to grow your company that can help you be a better parent.
Companies that have a clear vision of where they’re going and what they value often outperform companies that do not. Similarly, parents need to have a vision for their family that includes values and priorities, says Holliday Wayne.
“If parents don’t have a vision for their family and children’s future and have a plan for getting there, they may end up in a place they would rather not be,” she says.
When appropriate, Holliday Wayne suggests sharing your vision and values with your children; help them understand why you do what you do as a family.
“For example, rather than focusing on the rule, such as ‘no cell phones at the dinner table,’ help them understand the family value that drives it, such as ‘we value focused family time together,’” she says.
Similar to a manager setting individualized expectations for employees, parents must set unique standards for each child in a way that is most effective. “What works for one –giving M&Ms after a successful potty–may not work for another, who requires his or her very own ‘potty dance,’” she says.
Being an effective leader means setting priorities and accomplishing objectives. Whether it’s with a paper calendar, online app, or pad of sticky notes, we all have a way of meeting deadlines and managing tasks, says Sara Villanueva, associate professor of psychology for St. Edward’s University.
“By putting those same organizational skills to work at home, working parents can meet the constant demands that come in the form of science projects, PTA meetings, baseball practice, dance recitals, and doctor’s appointments, all while enjoying the chaotic bliss that we call parenthood.”
Good leaders also make time for planning, team building, and fostering company culture, and the same needs to happen in the home, says Wendy Murphy, associate professor of management at Babson College and co-author of Strategic Relationships at Work: Creating Your Circle of Mentors, Sponsors, and Peers for Success in Business and Life.
“Blocking out time to just be at home is similar to how I block out time for email or meetings at work, and it makes a huge difference for my family,” she says. “[It’s important] for my husband and I to relax and for our kids who need time to just play. We can fill every minute and wind up exhausted and not bringing our best selves to anything.”
Employees are going to make mistakes, and good leaders know that this is how they learn what doesn’t work and how to fix it.
“If the goal was for me to get in and out of the classroom with the least amount of resistance possible, then essentially doing the work for the students would be easiest,” says Russell Clayton, assistant professor of management at the Donald R. Tapia School of Business at Saint Leo University. “But that’s not the goal. The goal is for them to learn both a specific quantitative technique and to think critically. This requires a fair amount of patience on my part.”
This skill applies to parenting, as well. “From the perspective of patience, an afternoon with my 3-year-old would go much smoother if I did everything for her,” says Clayton. “However, she would not learn to do for herself if I did. Although she might get frustrated with certain tasks, it’s not long until she gets the hang of it.”
Working together as a team means sharing common goals and helping one another reach them, says Villanueva. An environment of support and encouragement is a sought-after element in the workplace, and this can be of great benefit at home as well.
“When we approach our children with a ‘we are all in this together’ kind of attitude, whether the objective is spring cleaning or learning to ski, it empowers them to know that they are not alone,” she says. “Rather, it signifies that if we all work together and pull our own weight for the sake of the greater good, we will all reach the common goals in a much more reasonable and efficient way.”
Good leaders first seek to understand and then be understood, says Holliday Wayne. This happens through asking questions, listening without interrupting, and showing interest in what is being said.
“Because of the parent-child relationship, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being very directive and give advice when the child might simply need to feel heard and cared for,” she says. “Just as with leaders, parents will be better communicators with their children if they use specific, non-global language that describes the behavior rather than the person.”
Instead of telling your teen, “You’re lazy. You always lie in your room playing video games and never spend time with our family,” which will likely make them defensive, try, “You have spent two hours in your room today. I would appreciate your spending an hour with the rest of the family now,” Holliday Wayne suggests.
Differing opinions often happen in the workplace, and each one requires you to decide to challenge it or not. Not every battle at work is worth fighting, says Clayton.
“There are certain situations in which I may need to engage in tense discussions for the betterment of a program or to challenge a policy that needs to be adjusted, but other issues do not deserve the mental and emotional energy it would take to fight,” he says.
This applies to parenting, too. “If it is really cold outside and my 3-year-old wants to wear her favorite Frozen T-shirt, then that is a battle worth fighting because I don’t want her to get too cold, and perhaps get sick,” he says. On the other hand, if she wants to wear an outfit that doesn’t match, arguing is not worth the energy it might take to win.
Good leaders display emotional intelligence in that they understand their own tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses, and can read and respond to the emotions of others, says Holliday Wayne. This helps build strong bonds in relationships with employees, and these skills are also essential in parenting.
“An emotionally intelligent parent knows that when she only got four hours of sleep because of the baby and her mother-in-law calls that she might need to let it go to voicemail and talk later,” she says. “An emotionally intelligent parent will usually respond calmly when a child misbehaves during the terrible twos or doesn’t meet his or her expectations at home, at school, or elsewhere. After all, parenting is rife with adversity and it’s important that parents maintain positivity.”