This past September, my spouse and I launched our oldest child into the K-12 school system. Sending your child off to kindergarten should be an exciting time. Sure, one expects it to be a bit anxiety-provoking but, ultimately, nothing to top your most stressful week at work over the past decade. That was not my family’s experience.
Due to a dysfunctional school lottery system, our son ended up in three different kindergarten classrooms before the end of his second day of kindergarten. While he remained resilient, friendly and curious throughout the ordeal, mom became a hot mess — but not without good reason.
In the span of just 48 hours, my spouse and I were forced to make a series of tough decisions under pressure and with incomplete information. The decisions we were making would have a significant impact on my son’s life over the next six years, and due to sibling preferences in the public school system, these decisions would also impact our younger daughter’s education in the future. The situation was emotional — not entirely unlike being in any leadership position.
To get through those 48 hours, my spouse and I had to tap into many of the same leadership capacities we bring to our work. In fact, in the end, our ability to come up with a viable solution was served by skills we have both spent over two decades honing on the job. But I also know that how we now lead our respective companies has also changed since we became parents mid-career. Among other things, being a parent has made both of us more flexible and agile.
Running a company and parenting at the same time is challenging, but skills acquired on the job can help one be a better parent and vice versa. In fact, these activities go hand-in-hand. Here are six qualities that great parents and leaders share:
Life happens, circumstances change and sometimes, we are forced to become more agile. As a parent, agility may be your greatest asset. Just as you get into a parenting rhythm, things invariably change (e.g., your kids let you know that they need to stay up later to finish homework or that they are ready to wander just a bit further from home on their own).
The same thing holds true at work. Just as you get into a work rhythm, someone moves on or announces they need to take time off to pursue another passion. In both cases, fostering agility is essential.
Whether you’re at work or at home, it is important to communicate in a clear and consistent manner. It is especially important to learn how to ask great questions and how and when to ask these questions.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John observe that “Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members.” Early childhood development experts also emphasize the value of asking great questions, specifically highlighting its impact on language acquisition.
Great coaches see the potential in teammates (both at home and work) and proactively work to position each player for success. Rather than solving problems, it is about helping individuals assess a situation, grow on their own and resolve their own problems. Whether this means trusting that your kid will figure something out or letting someone else on your team deliver a mission-critical presentation, the better we are as coaches, the more likely others on our team are to succeed.
4. Ability To Set Clear Expectations
We will never be able to prepare our team members or kids for everything. If we set clear expectations and build transparency, however, team members and kids are more likely to know what to do, when to do it and why — even when we can’t be there offering tips from the sidelines.
On the very first day of school, it turned out what was hard for me wasn’t necessarily hard for my son. While I was flustered and frustrated about my son’s school placement, he was likely concerned with an entirely different can of worms. The same holds true on any team. You never know what other team members are navigating. Having compassion means accepting that you can’t always know exactly what they are going through.
6. Ability To Empower Others
Watching my son drive away on a school bus for the first time reminded me of how little control we have as parents and as leaders. As the bus turned the corner, I saw my little guy frantically slide into an empty seat. For the rest of the day, I wondered about his first school bus ride. Had he arrived? Was he afraid to be alone on the bus?
While it may sound strange to compare a five-year-old’s school bus ride to anything that happens in the workplace, one thing is clear: If you want people to grow, sometimes you need to surrender and give them enough space to actually learn on their own.
After a chaotic and exhausting entry to the school year, my son has landed in a great public school with a highly sought-after Spanish immersion program. He comes home exhausted at the end of each day and excited about all the new words, concepts and people he has encountered. As a parent, learner and leader, I’m excited for him. My son’s school is working out because it reflects our core values as a family — values that include a commitment to embracing new challenges, taking risks and leading through example.