Little did I know that, for me, improvement came in the form of parenting.
I became a parent nine years ago. And as many new parents do, I read a lot on how to be a better parent. Aside from the practical tips of how to install a car seat, I read books on how to get children on a path of healthy sleeping, how to manage toddlers and their raw emotions, how to raise confident children, and this list goes on and on.
At the same time, in my professional life, I found myself again building a development team. I was also reading books on leadership, some of it was a review from my corporate years in HR, but some of it new.
The parallels of parenting and building a development team struck me. Being a leader is an enormous responsibility as is being a parent. Leadership is the ability to influence thoughts and actions. Parenting aims to influence actions and, in some situations, influence thoughts. Good leaders want to help shape the careers of their colleagues in the same way that a good parent wants to shape the lives of their child(ren). The role of parents and leaders is stewardship of sorts; stewarding the future.
Let me be clear; I do not intend to imply that those whom we lead are our children, nor should we treat them as such. I do think many parenting strategies are based in leadership.
Teams are made up of different people with different skills, even when in the same role. It is important to recognize the strengths of those to whom we lead and cultivate their abilities. Significant time is spent on analyzing the strengths and weaknesses and looking for threats and opportunities (SWOT). Individual development plans are crafted for the personal development of the teammate. Some thought leaders carefully craft their department or organizational plans that build on the strengths of the individual team members.
Much like our team members, each child is different and has differing skills (interests), personalities, and traits. You can’t simply take a one size fits all approach to any aspect of parenting. Parents aren’t typically looking at the children in terms of a SWOT exercise, but they are looking at each child individually and want to foster the child’s natural talents (in most cases). That is exactly why modern-day parents typically take a tag team approach to get their kids to various afterschool activities that happen to be all across town, with one child in music lessons while the other is in soccer. Parents know the strengths and weaknesses of each child. Engaged parents spend a considerable amount of time helping the child either improve their weaknesses while doing all that they can to allow their child’s strength to blossom.
Today’s thought leaders also have to balance levels of responsibilities given to the various members of their teams. There are certain benchmark expectations that you can and should expect from each team member. That being said, each thought leader knows who on the team can handle an extra project or unique opportunity outside of the normal workload. There will always be those on the team that are your go-to super stars or at the least those who you are developing to be your go-to stars. Obviously, with added expectations comes various levels of responsibilities, and in some cases privileges, that are not equal to all. The responsibilities and privileges must be earned.
A family structure naturally supports this theory, as well. Age tends to play into levels of responsibilities but isn’t always a guarantee. Many parents know exactly which child is their responsible one and which isn’t. As such, parents will not simply afford all children with the same level of responsibilities or privileges; they must be earned, just like in the workforce.
What happens when a responsibility or privilege needs to be taken away? In the workforce, I have found that applying parenting techniques provide a thoughtful approach. Mistakes are an important learning opportunity. My initial reaction is to remain calm and accept the situation; in fact, I am often quoted as saying, “it is what it is”. Next, I find myself going into dissection mode, discussing with my teammate what led to this situation, exploring how to fix the situation, and then allow them to fix it. I usually only lose my cool if and when the same mistake happens again, and that is usually when a certain privilege or responsibility is taken away. I will admit that I am much better at this skill in the workforce than at home. I’m praying that I have this down by the time my kids are in their teen years!
In the workforce, I have always had the belief that when you take the time to explain why and how decisions are made, and when appropriate, engage the team in the decision-making process, there is a higher level of understanding and ownership. It is easier to keep the team focused on the goal. The same is true for me in my home. When I engage my kids in any discussion about why or even how we do certain things, they are more likely to follow the example/rule, and it becomes part of the fabric of their character.
The most valuable lesson that I have learned in my homelife is that children are born with a deep sense of wanting to help. They want responsibilities and a sense that they are capable of contributing. It is my job to develop and nurture them. In the workforce, especially in the nonprofit sector, I have found that most teammates have a deep sense of wanting to help. And again, it is my job to develop and nurture them and what a privilege it is to do so.
Barbara Evans is the Chief Development Officer of Harry Chapin Food Bank. Barbara is half-Italian and has the belief that food is love so feeding people is her passion both professionally and in her personal life. In her spare time she can be found on the beach or at the pool with her family!