A few years back, we hosted a leadership conference that featured sports leaders - players and coaches, some of whom went on to top leadership positions in politics, business, and other fields. I was surprised by how frequently they mentioned the role that their parents played in their development as top athletes and as leaders. But even more surprising were the lessons they learned from being parents - the lessons they learned from their kids!
Here is a summary of behaviors that are used both by good parents, and the very best leaders.
1. You Are a Role Model (Watch what you say and do!). Kids [John Wooden told me not to use this term "Professor, ‘kids' are baby goats..." Sorry, Coach!] emulate their parents. Followers model their leaders. If you say one thing, but do another, your actions will speak louder than your words.
2. Honesty Really is the Best Policy. If you lie to your children, or your subordinates, you are both losing their trust, and modeling dishonest behavior. You don't have to disclose everything, but it is best to be straightforward. Admit to mistakes, and try to do better. Communicate honestly the reasons why you are doing what you are doing. No hidden agendas.
3. Focus on Others' Needs. Work hard to try and understand each individual child's (and subordinate's) needs. This is a key to building strong interpersonal relationships, and allows you to understand what motivates each one (and how to get the best out of them).
4. Balance Challenge and Support. The key to growing as a person is to face and overcome challenges, but this requires taking risks and making mistakes. Having a supportive mentor - parent or leader - can help ease the anxiety associated with challenging tasks, and provide the necessary guidance to learn from failures.
5. Develop the Next Generation! As parents and leaders we have an obligation to develop the next generation. Every parent (and every good leader) takes pride in their children's (followers') accomplishments. We hope for their success and we nurture and support them. Our collective future depends on it.
[Readers of this blog will note that much of the above is based on Transformational Leadership Theory. Read more about it here.]
Also, if you are interested in research on the early development of leadership, take a look at the recent special issue of the journal, The Leadership Quarterly.
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