My Foot in My Mouth: Leadership & Parenting


“All parents should be leaders & all leaders should be parents,” I say a few weeks ago to a group of managers who I am leading through a strategy session.

What? Where did that come from? Although not completely off-topic, it does not directly relate to the discussion at hand. Uh oh. I’ve lost it. Perhaps I am doing too many different things and I have lost my edge. Crap.

So far I have managed to keep the two companies completely separate. So far I have managed to keep my business clients separate from my Men in the Head ®initiative. So far I have not irrevocably let one interfere with the other. So far, man, it must be the heat.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

Well, too bad for me, because I now have to speak to this subject as if I meant to bring it up. I look around the room and notice many eyes on me waiting to see where I am going with this comment. I take a deep breath gathering my thoughts…

“With leadership, you lead a group of people to a common goal with an eye on the long game, but managing the day-to-day details, “ I pause, “How many of you are parents?”

I look around the room and see that most of the people have raised their hands. Oh, thank you God, perhaps I have dodged a bullet.

“With parenting it is the same thing, but with parenting you have more compassion while with leadership, you have more objectivity. You actually need both for each role, so perhaps the better way to describe it is leadership and parenting share many of the same activities and you need to apply both objectivity and compassion in equal measure.” Oh yeah, that’s what I meant to say.

Thankfully the meeting was not derailed and we actually accomplished what we set out to do. Phew.

However, on the ride home I started thinking about my comment and I realized that while it’s not necessary to have one person be both a parent & a leader, there is much to be said for looking at parenthood through the leadership lens.

According to Kouzes and Posner, there are 5 practices of good leadership:

  1. Modeling the Way

As a leader, you need to be a good role model. As a parent, you are a role model with every look, thought, deed, act, and engagement. Your children are observing and following everything you do – every single day. They watch the way you drive, how you talk on the phone or to your neighbors. They observe how you treat yourself, your friends and your family. They monitor how and what you eat, watch on TV, how much time you are on your laptop or mobile device, and whether you have a beer or glass of wine with dinner. You are modeling everything to your children, every minute of every single day. So, parents as role models – check.

  1. Inspiring a Shared Vision

A good leader inspires a shared vision. As parents, we have a vision and sometimes it may be just to get through the day, but most times, it’s to provide a foundation for our children from which to launch their lives. Everyday, we get our children ready for school, drive them to their activities, help them with homework, allow them to spend time with their friends and take them on family vacations. All the while, we are talking to them about making good choices, advising them on navigating the pitfalls of growing up, and motivating them to make the very best lives for themselves. So, parents inspiring a vision – check.

  1. Challenging the Process

A good leader takes risks, makes decisions, makes mistakes and then learns from them. Yeah, I think parents have that covered. Who knew there would be so many risks, decisions, or mistakes? Yikes, parenting is not for sissies. I remember one of my friends said to me, “The last day you knew anything for sure was the day before your first child was born.” (Thanks Kathy) She was JUST SO RIGHT. As parents, we make decisions on every single thing from the smallest, should they have a blanket covering them to the largest, where should they go to college and everything in between. I could go on for hours on this one, but I won’t. We all know what we do all day – everyday. So, parents as challengers – check.

  1. Enabling Others to Act

A good leader is a mentor, disciplinarian and coach. He or she encourages, motivates, and yet has a strict operational code. Parents provide boundaries for their children while giving them the freedom to live their lives. The limit of the boundaries depends upon their ages and as I say to my two, their attitudes, as does the extent of their freedoms. So, parents as mentors, disciplinarians and coaches – check.

  1. Encouraging the Heart

A good leader recognizes and rewards their employees for their efforts and accomplishments. I think parents do this better than most leaders. I especially like it when it involves family time together as a reward instead of a material good, but that’s a personal choice. So, parents recognizing and rewarding their children – check.

One thing is for certain, both leadership and parenting are living breathing things that need to be tended and nurtured every minute of every day. You need compassion and objectivity in equal measure.

For me, I feel that my leadership experience has helped with my parenting. I am more objective and can take a long view on some things that I don’t feel I would be able to do otherwise and that is particularly helpful these days in the tween and teen years. I also would like to think that my parenting experience lends itself to my leadership skills. I think I have more patience and compassion and am more apt to celebrate accomplishments.

However, next time I am in a strategy meeting and I mention the parallels of parenting and leadership, I will be sure to handle it more elegantly. Yikes, that was a collision I could have done without.


(Mr. Woods, this one is for you.)