Do we parent or do we lead?

Tomorrow is an awesome day–the day my first born son came into this world
twenty-eight years ago. I can remember that day like yesterday; I’ll never
forget the moment they laid him in my arms, entrusted to me by God to love and
raise. I have made mistakes but I hope I have done more things right. Today, he
is a wonderful man that I am very proud of. Happy Birthday, Drew!

So what does that have to do with leadership? I often think about the
similarities between parenting and leadership. In both, we shape the lives of
those we have responsibility for. In both we have the best interests of the
person in mind. Clearly parenting (done well) puts the top priority on
developing the full potential of the person, championing their successes and
happiness, regardless of what direction it leads. When leading, we also are
concerned with developing the person, in order to achieve the desired outcome;
we have an end game in mind.

In parenting, we have authority which is balanced by love. When leading, we
may or may not have authority and it is balanced by the need to influence
others in order to achieve a business outcome. As much as I advocate embracing
individual talent and the collective brain trust of the team, it is indeed an
art to be able to empower in a manner that achieves the desired outcome. As
leaders we walk a fine line of valuing our employees while getting value from
our employees.

Unlike parenting, there are times when the best interests of the
organization and the employee don’t align. There may not be a benefit of
extending more development time, trying a different project, teaching values
that weren’t learned in childhood or trying to convince an employee that the
company really does want that project complete in a timely way. In parenting,
we stick it out and love the person they become, often a better person than we
ever could have imagined. In leading, we have to balance the needs of the
company with the needs of the employee and realize there may be a time when the
employee comes first, there may be a time when the company comes first and
there may be a time when the two no longer have mutual objectives.

It can be very hard to remind ourselves that we aren’t parents to employees;
it feels so much the same. We work with them, we coach them, we watch them
grow, and we most likely like them. In fact, I see many leaders defend
employees that create more problems then they solve. One of the “biggest
mistakes” made by several of the CEO’s I have interviewed is how long it
took them to recognize that they needed to let someone go. We don’t like to do
that–as much because we don’t want to admit we were wrong to hire them or that
we failed to “develop” them–as it is just unpleasant. However,
employees that don’t or can’t make the team better are usually making it worse.
The old adage is around for a reason, “hire slow, and fire fast.”

A great leader knows when it is time to invest in a person’s development and
when it is time to send them on to a “better fit” outside the
company. Have you ever been challenged to know when to let go?


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