New kids to new hires: Seven ways great parenting inspires great leaders.
I was recently reading Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography: For those unfamiliar to the cricketing world, Tendulkar is the sum of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in the roped-out circle. At 5"5, he took the cricketing world by storm at age 16 and before retiring after 24 years in the 22-yard pitch, he had amassed a record that even the greats before his time would laud him for.
But that’s not what this article is about. His career highlights can be found on any cursory search. The same goes for any of my heroes: Roger Federer (Tennis), MS Dhoni (Cricket), Gordon Ramsay (Chef), Richard Branson (Business), Aamir Khan (Acting): and I’m familiar with all of their stories.
These stories inspire through every stage right from humble beginnings, to years of hard work, to fights through success, criticism, fame, falls, and fandom. I noticed a very strong parallel between all of them. Each of them talks about their parents in the exact same light. They might as well have been raised by the same set of parents. Now what constitutes as “great parenting” differs for everyone, but from this list you will at least be able to conclude what I consider great parenting.
In my professional career, I’ve spotted many managers, good and bad, and what hits me the most is the parallels between the parents of the greats and the best managers that I’ve seen. It doesn’t come down to what they do or what they say. Rather, its how they approach you as a child and as an employee.
Here are seven traits that great parenting can bring to the workplace.
1. They raise decision makers
Far too often you hear stories of people following a path just to appease their parents (or their managers). Now while parents and managers both have a responsibility to their surroundings to make sure that you make your contribution worthwhile, the best-in-class leaders will allow you to make the final decision. From deciding which toy you want to buy to which project is the highest priority: a good manager allows you to feel the pressure of responsibility of your decisions.
This is highly valuable because you allow people to invest their own emotional self into the decision along with their rational self with actual consequences at the tail-end of it. It’s not just a sandbox, its a real-life experience that trains you in making tough decisions later in life. The flip-side of this is extremely overbearing parents who impose every decision on you including which courses to take, which colleges to go to, and which majors to take (looking at you, most Indian parents.)
While some oversight and education toward your kids is necessary, if you allow your kids or new hires to make their own decisions within their own operative space, you will nurture them to make better decisions in the future.
2. They guide with direction, not decision.
Child: “I want to be a magician.”
Any parent in their senses would cringe at least once upon hearing that. Similarly, any manager would cringe at an employee suggesting an overreaching goal: like wanting to be the VP. This is exceptionally tough to handle because in your sane and experienced mindset, this kind of goal-setting seems vagrant and foolhardy. Pause for a second. Once your child or employee has voiced their intention, it is now up to you as a good leader to empower them to not only pursue it, but also to guide them.
The litmus test here becomes if your inspiree actually follows through your advice. The result of that test will also be suggestive about future success in their pursuits. My first manager insisted on me mastering skills over many fields well-beyond my position for the same reason. While I was hired as a design engineer, he insisted me actively studying project management, creating proposals, budgeting, and even engaged me in leadership activities that help me today.
3. They focus on instilling values.
Anyone can give orders: it takes a great leader to know the right orders to give.
But what makes a leader great, or even good? Great leaders, parents, and managers, subscribe to a value-based approach to life. Instilling the right values in your kids or new hires can spell the difference between successful teams and dysfunctional nightmares.
We are at no loss of stories of companies that are famous for having a terrible work culture and families that have a toxic environment. While these nightmare scenarios make cover-stories, companies and families with a healthy environment that focuses on a culture of realism, humility, industriousness, and conscientiousness draw everyone’s admiration.
It’s important to drive the right values in your kids and new hires because they will use that code to drive their behavior downstream. Staying calm under pressure is not a choice, it is a response driven by a company’s value in being prepared and vigilant in problem solving. Similarly, owning up to your mistake to your parents is a response driven by your family’s values in being accountable.
4. They don’t focus entirely on targets.
“Always Be Closing.” — Fuck you! that’s my name.
If you can’t recall that quote, watch the opening scene from the critically acclaimed play Glengarry Glen Ross. This is the perfect example of a terrible manager.
While a guns-out drill sergeant might motivate you to charge the world, you would need that speech every single morning to psyche yourself out. That’s NOT a sustainable model. That is no different from doing a line of cocaine each morning just to have high energy for the day.
As humans, targets influence us the easiest. Be it a Cadillac El-dorado, highest grade in class, the hottest prom-date, employee-of-the-month, or just a heavy bag swinging around you: having something to hit makes us want to hit it.
But this target-based philosophy in life only works as long as you consistently define targets. and if you get into a habit of hitting targets, by hook-or-crook, your focus is not necessarily on the best way of doing it. Further, focusing on the target takes your attention off the experience of being in the moment.
Smart managers know to focus on the experience of completing a task rather than robotically achieving the end-goal.
5. They focus on process.
I learned the true value of process during my tenure in the aerospace manufacturing industry. You can assemble an airplane any way you want and deliver it, but focusing on how to do things and why you do them that way allows you to consistently put out a higher-quality product.
For those who know me personally will grow weary of my frequent rants on the high value of process-based thinking, but I’m fully convinced. Parents and managers who focus on doing things right, and doing things right repeatedly will consistently position their kids and teams to be aligned with their core mission. Mainly because this focuses your attention on completing the process rather than the results of the process.
Sure you could think of this as target-based thinking as well, but I differ on that front because targets get you thinking what needs to be done and where you need to go, whereas processes get you to think about how to do it and why to do it that way.
In the long-run, understanding and respecting a process is much more valuable than simply producing results.
6. They educate you about failing.
Failure is exceptionally tough to handle. What’s even tougher is watching your kid on the path that will lead to an eventual failure. Now, I don’t suggest simply sitting back and watching your kid or new-hire fail miserably. It is your duty to educate them so they have the tools and guidance to do what they’re charged with. However, if you begin micromanaging that task, you will take away a valuable learning opportunity from them.
Fear of failure will often cripple new kids on the block from even trying something. Parents and managers focused on an all-or-nothing attitude will destroy the morale of their nubiles. Instead, explaining the gravity of the consequences of failing, or the potential pitfalls they might see on their current path will, while being initially annoying, drive a critical outlook within them that helps encourage autonomy and attention to detail.
7. They don’t coddle you when you fail.
Failing is the most natural form of trying. This is where the two groups of mentors are the furthest apart. Parents show a tendency to console their children when they fail, and managers often don’t engage their team enough when they do. But the best-in-class parents and managers engage the disappointed losers of the day in an exercise of creative fault-detection.
It’s almost too cliche to tell someone, “It’s okay. someone wins, someone loses.” The most sustainable and meaningful response to failing is to do an audit of the events and the process and identify the reasons for failure. This helps instill a sense of instant improvement as opposed to wallowing in your own misery.
A great source of failure-therapy for me is watching press-conferences by the losing athlete. They get thrown right into the media melee of “why did you fail? What was different about your opponent? Did other factors play in to it? Did you not imagine losing like this?” and so on…
While a melee like this might be a bit too much for a new hire or kid to handle, subjecting them to reach their conclusions about this failure habitually will lead to them developing a healthy attitude about failure.
In summary, while this list is not exhaustive of “Great Parenting — How to raise winners”, I have tried to articulate what I see in the parenting of some of the people that I’ve chosen to name my Heroes.
Do you agree with this brand of parenting and leadership? Is there something your parents or managers did that resonated with you? Share it in the comments!