How leadership is like parenting

The world has changed so much in the last few months that it’s barely recognisable. We are no longer able to keep our worlds of work and family separate, having had the two smashed together in the most unorthodox way.

We are now leading our organisations from the comfort of our couch, managing organisational financials while marking maths homework, having team meetings while our 11-year-old sits beside us doing her homework, and wondering if we could perhaps put our 14-year-old son on a performance improvement plan.

Attitudes such as commitment to the organisation, job satisfaction and overall engagement are all positively influenced by a leader’s actions

While we have typically worked hard to keep these two worlds separated, there are five key similarities between them.

1. Bring love

At the foundation of any family is love – and so, too, must this exist at the foundation of teams. Through connection, understanding and forgiveness you can build a strong, cohesive team of staff who understand and value each other.

A longitudinal study completed in 2014 by Barsade and O’Neill concluded that organisations with a culture of companionate love among employees have significantly higher levels of engagement and lower levels of withdrawal (emotional exhaustion and absenteeism).

This then permeates out to their clients, customers and stakeholders. You can build connections with your people by sharing stories with them about your past, finding things in common, and forgiving people when they make mistakes.

2. Build your environment

In all good homes, creating an environment in which children can grow and thrive is essential to setting them up for success. At work, creating a safe psychological environment in which your people feel free to express themselves in whatever way they require will help foster creativity, innovation, productivity and engagement.

This is supported by Harvard Business School research which found that organisations that create psychologically safe environments for their people increase innovation and employees’ desire to improve their teams or business. Building trust, being curious and promoting constructive conflict are great ways to ensure psychological safety in teams.

3. Promote health

We want our children to be able to thrive in a world that is increasingly demanding and in which stress is at an all-time high. When they are healthy and happy, both physically and mentally, they develop the skills and resilience to meet these demands. The same applies to the people who work for you.

By supporting your people to live healthy lives through diet and exercise and to approach their work and challenges with a positive mindset that gives them the resilience they need, you help them manage stress, reduce illness and increase engagement.

Research suggests that health-focused cultures encourage healthy relationships with our peers, stakeholders and customers, increase our ability to assess risk and make better decisions, and improve productivity while reducing errors. Leading by example by switching off early from work some days, taking time for exercise and eating healthy are all great ways to promote health at work.

4. Watch your language

It’s confronting when your child repeats back to you the same words, phrases or slang that you know you use every day.

As parents, we are constantly on show, being watched and observed, listened to (even though it appears otherwise) as we teach our children how to behave. Our employees also watch, observe and take in all our words, actions, behaviours and values, good and bad.

Attitudes such as commitment to the organisation, job satisfaction and overall engagement are all positively influenced by a leader’s actions. A great way to build awareness of your language is through daily reflection on what went well, what didn’t and what you can change in the future.

As parents, we are constantly on show, being watched and observed, [ just as] our employees take in all our words, actions, behaviours and values, good and bad

5. Show your vision

We all have hopes and dreams for our children – usually for them to grow up and be successful at whatever  they choose to do, be happy with their lives, partners, jobs, dreams and aspirations. As a leader, you also want your people to thrive, develop, learn and succeed. It’s important to have a vision of the future and a strategy to get there so your people can make the link between what they do on a daily basis and the goals of the team and organisation.

Yet in a 2016 study it was found that a mere 12% of organisations were actually able to implement their strategy successfully, about 70% of strategic initiatives failed, and less than 20% of employees were able to  articulate what their organisational strategy actually was.

Get sharp with your strategy by using clear and plain English, talk about it often and make clear links back to it with everything you say.

As working from home is becoming the new normal, we can identify comparisons between leading teams and raising children and use the principles of parenting to help create work families that deliver now and into the future.

Wendy Born is the author of Raising Leaders and helps leaders maximise their talent and strengths to achieve extraordinary results. As an engaging facilitator, coach and speaker, she works with executives, senior leaders and leadership teams to create high-performance organisations