What being a Leader and a Parent taught me about myself (which I didn’t always like)

As people, we have an amazing ability to apply life lessons and skills to the task at hand.  The meticulous design and engineering of a model train set, the creative thinking to write music, the training and focus of an athlete…those skills are transferable and should make us better in our other pursuits.

Similarly, I find that having been a Manager/Leader it is has helped me be a better Parent; and conversely, being a Parent has helped me be a better Leader.  This interplay between Leadership and Parenthood is a subject for another post, here I wish to explore the impact of seeing yourself in your direct reports, or your children, and the impact your bad habits have on you personally.

Everyone, at some point in their life, has had a parent tell them some version of this statement:

“I hope your kids grow up to be just like you, so I can watch you try to deal with them.”

I think the message is usually more playful than I made it sound, but the message is the same nonetheless.  However, I have never heard anyone say:

“I hope your direct reports are just like you, so I can enjoy watching you try to manage them.”

But maybe we should say this, because inevitably, don’t our direct reports (much like our children) learn by observing us?

As an adult, I have learned to either manage my idiosyncrasies, or in some cases I have learned to ignore flaws I see in myself.  And nothing hits home more than seeing your flaws reappear in your children.  For instance, my wife and I have very meticulous ways in which we go about things…and sometimes it borders on perfectionism to the point of distraction.  And recently, watching my child become visibly frustrated and upset and not being able to color a picture perfectly, I simultaneously applauded her desire to do a great job, while also feeling the pang of guilt as I have saddled my child with this guilty sense of perfectionism.

This story may not seem like a huge deal, but think of your own life, how many times have you heard your child say something or do something…and your first reaction is anger or frustration with them…then the reality hits home, they learned this from you.

The same is true at work.  Have you been in a position where a bad habit you have is picked up by a direct report or colleague?  The same basic feelings spring up again…at first you want to say, “don’t do that.”  Then you realize they learned it from you, and maybe you should stop first.

At the end of the day, we are all people, and as a result we all have flaws, idiosyncrasies, habits and vices.  As a parent, I learned that some of the most impactful moments occur when I can admit to my child that I have been wrong, and that I should change my behavior.  Imagine if we had the same moment of honesty with our direct reports.  In a world where “command and control” leadership has gone the way of the dinosaurs, imagine the “Followership” we would gain if we were honest and humble about our own short comings.

Anyway, in many ways, my children are growing up to be like me.  My parents get a kick out seeing the same frustration in my face they experienced as parents.  Yet, I couldn’t be happier. Every facet of them makes me a better person by making me more self-aware.  And, as a leader, I believe the same holds true.  I want to learn and copy the good I see in them, and when I see an area for improvement, it should inspires a sense of reflection and self-improvement as I learn to model better behavior.


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