The things we learn from being a parent are so profound that there is no course on earth – not even the most expensive MBA course – can bring the same level of insights. The reason? Observing ourselves as a parent brings us closer to who we really are.
Chatting with Pim last Friday about work, organizational change, the crisis (what else?) and family; he suddenly stated:
“to my opinion, there is no better class on time management than having kids”.
Maybe he’s right. Or maybe it goes even a little deeper than that. The more I think of it – the learning, the frustration, the 100% exposure, the eye openers and the heartbreaks – parenting may be outperforming any major business school when it comes to learning soft skills and leadership. Sure – it is not being valued to the same extent (understatement) and the prerequisites are a bit different (a GMAT doesn’t get a diaper changed).
There is a Buddhist proverb that states
“When the student is ready, the master appears“.
That’s exactly how it is with parenting as a management skill: we can diligently work our way through, or we can observe and learn at the same time. We can be at home with the kids and whine about the business opportunities and master courses we are missing, or we can see our children for the creative capacities and for the richness they are and allow them to educate us.
Same setting – different ‘student-readiness‘.
In parenting there are 3 leadership characteristics one gets involved in very close and personal. I strongly believe that if we evolve in any of these three characteristics as a result of our parenting experience, the foundation of our leadership skill-set benefits to a large extent.
1. Being In Relationship With Ourselves
As many parents will confirm, the search for answers that come from outside ourselves will only return instructions that read like a car manual: “If part C on Diagram F-1 is not working properly, try solution S6 on page 360″. Unfortunately we are haunted by the illusion that something has to be fixed in our parenting techniques when we start off as young parents. The only thing it does is fueling our fears and self-doubts. These nagging doubts keep us looking for techniques and how-to’s. We chase for answers like a dog chasing his own tail.
But there is nothing to fix. Nothing is broken. You are OK. I am OK.
The same is true for leadership: there is no prescription for what is wrong with you or your organization. It is not the number of leadership techniques and degrees in our arsenal that determines the way we experience and react to a situation; it’s our emotional state. And more than anything, our emotional state is determined by our level of self-respect.
In their book The Essence of Parenting, Anne Johnson and Vic Goodman argue:
“Many of us think that it is selfish to take care of our own needs. We believe that we are being mean to others or irresponsible if we take care of ourselves first; or we think that other’s needs, likes and dislikes should take precedence over our own.
Many of us never learned or even thought about how to listen to the wisdom of the heart, our own inner voice. We have been trained from childhood to look outside of ourselves for direction and validation. Consequently we have lived our lives focused on other people’s needs and feelings while ignoring our own. In the alcohol and drug counseling field we call this Co-depencency”
Our neurotic needs for external validation of whatever we think say and do is the very thing that gets us out of balance. Becoming aware of our neurotic tics is the first step to getting back into relationship with ourselves.
2. Emotional Maturity (and lack thereof)
The path of parenting is full of mirrors and emotional challenges. We get to meet the boundaries of how well we are able to separate our feelings from our children’s while trying to find a balance of emotional maturity. What does being a good parent suggest? Does it mean having well-behaved kids who always mind and who are always pleasant and cooperative? If so, then we are in for a rough ride when our children turn age two or again when they reach adolescence.
[Drawing by my daughter: me writing this article]
If we – as parents or leaders – are not firmly established in our true self or if we have trouble figuring out where we stop and someone else starts – we will be taken to the limits of our endurance.
Being able to separate our emotional state from everyone else’s is essential.
3. Taking Care of Ourselves
Taking care of ourselves not only makes us feel better, it helps us become more sensitive to our children. The same goes for leadership: if we don’t have the discipline to take care of ourselves, how can we expect our peers and our team to have that balance and discipline? The best definition of leadership I have come across is: “going first“. And it extends to taking care of ourself.
The first step in self management is an increased consciousness: starting to recognize extreme reactions in our lives as red flags are an important warning that an internal signal was missed. Taking care of ourselves is so basic to living a balanced life. Yet it is strange that so many of us are unable to do it. As Johnson & Goodman say:
“Did our parents forget to tell us about this? Is this a variation of the concept <<suffering leads to salvation>>? It does not take a genius to figure out that stress and exhaustion do not lead to kindness and sensitivity”
Real leaders take vacation.
If we are able to see parenting as a gift instead of a burden the ‘master will appear’ in everyday situations and lessons will hit us when we are least expect it. The lessons may be blunt and hard to take. Being vulnerable, open and allowing ourselves to make mistakes are the parenting and leadership behaviors that make the difference along this path. No one said it would be easy – but no one said it ‘d be so enriching.
Being the author of this post and parent at the same time does not make me untouchable or perfect. I consider myself an average parent, not better than any other parent or leader who is trying to make the best of it.
- The essence of parenting, by Anne Johnson and Vic Goodman
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