Parenting and leadership – Different context, similar lessons?

Having to balance parenting and career (and many other aspects of life), I must admit that I am obsessed with efficiency. One of my approach to efficiency is to connect and cross-implement the lessons I learnt between these two seemingly disparate worlds. Of course, these are two completely different context, you may say. But there is a common parameter in these two – humans. When it comes to humans and emotions, the dynamics that accompany these interactions can get rather unpredictable (recall a time when you ask your son to clean his bed, and he still does not do it despite the ‘friendly reminder’? Or to motivate your team to stretch their capability, only to find he/ she is chasing the wrong initiative, very efficiently?)

I thought about some of these key lessons and quickly eliminated the hard, technical aspects of it. This is also because primarily, there are so many classes and experts out there to help us on “strategic leadership” or “parenting” (ala tiger mom). Let’s talk about ‘heart matters’ (some of my friends jokingly call this fluff, but I have to say that this soft/fluffy thing is the hardest to do!)

Lesson 1: Start with a good intention and clear purpose

As a first-time mother, I used to lament on why babies did not come with manuals. I freaked out a lot during the first 3 years of our eldest son (sorry son, you are our guinea pig and you know that!), trying really hard to read every parenting books and talking to other parents.

However, like magic, when our second son came, it changed my perspective on the purpose and our role as parents. I quickly realized, it is more important to be joyful and to be supportive in this parenting journey, rather than be perfect.

How does that tie to good intention and clear purpose?

This realization that I am here to support (as a parent, and as a leader) to the people that matter, helped me to set my intention to help my kids and my team to uncover their potential and to support the things that will make them better.

For example, if one child has inclination on dinosaurs, or animals, we will consciously plan our activities and program to help grow their interest. If he/she is introvert and needs some nudging on working with people, then we will use any teachable moments to build their confidence and chip away anxiety.

The same principle applies to leading the team. Knowing the intention of supporting the team, it is much more joyful experience, rather than strictly chasing the KPIs (of which some are undeniably still very important!).

Lesson 2: Useful feedback and clear expectations

Not all feedback are created equal – there is such a thing as useful feedback.

What is useful feedback? It is a feedback, when given, will actually enhance the person’s performance and/or increase confidence level that made them interested to improve.

I admit that I made many mistakes on providing useful feedback (and still do!).

But let’s dissect the key elements of useful feedback:

⁃ They are specific, and targeted on behavior (and not personal)

⁃ They invite reflections and create sense of ownership and accountability. For our kids, I usually tie back to our ‘agreed family values’. At work, it can be tied to the mission and goals.

⁃ They have some sense of hope and motivate the recipient to actually improve the situation. For example, yes, we acknowledge the situation but therein the opportunity to improve.

When in doubt, I find that the pre-requisite of giving useful feedback is making sure my intention is to help the recipient to grow (see Lesson 1).

Lesson 3: Communicate, communicate, communicate

How many times could we have avoided conflict if we communicate? I can recall many occasion that I could have prevented if I had been more purposeful in communicating.

What I have also learnt about communication is there is no such thing as over-communicate. I am constantly surprised at the feedback I get from my children or my team, when I actually ask their opinion about certain things. (And I know, I don’t do enough…)

Most importantly, I have learnt that communication is not only during good times, but also during bad times. My husband has this fascinating approach with our children that we will take every opportunity of “teachable moments” to communicate our family values and lessons learnt at the most (sometimes I feel) difficult moments. The”teachable moments” are the moments of breakdown or disappointment – those that allow us to process our feelings, and also to use these to build stronger connections. At work, it could be when your team member did not deliver, or did not pre-empt you sufficiently. Or it could well be something out of hunch that somethings is amiss.

In summary, these three lessons are applicable, whether it is for parenting or leading a team. Above all, the overarching foundation for all these three lessons is genuine care.

On a final note, I must admit that it is very much work in progress for me at work – let’s say that it is easier to love your children as a mother!

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