Are You a Leader or a Manager? | How Leadership Changes Our Parenting
Most of you probably don’t know this about me, but offline I regularly teach about leadership, and have done so for the past twelve years.
Recently I was teaching on the subject of Leadership Verses Management – what’s the difference and why should we care?
Ultimately, when you boil it right down, leadership has to do with influencing people toward a goal or vision, whereas management has to do with directing, delegating, and making sure the job gets done.
Both are important.
Good management is vital, but it’s not everything.
There are many areas in life where management is critical. On a personal level I need to manage my finances. My accounts must be balanced and tracked and dealt with concretely – using addition and subtraction, multiplication and division.
Schedules, budgets, resources, workflow, menus, etc. – all of these need to be well-managed.
People need to be led.
Manage resources, lead people.
When we slip into managing people, we run the risk of making them feel like they are just another tool, a resource, a vehicle to accomplish something. We can (unintentionally) make them feel objectified, used, abused, and taken for granted. Sometimes, in an effort to get the job done, managers end up getting fear-based responses from those they’re managing. Subordinates become afraid of the consequences of failure (or perceived disobedience, disloyalty, etc.) rather than being motivated by the desire to do a great job.
A leader, on the other hand, works to inspire people – taking them on a journey and rallying them to a cause.
Like a manager, a leader also wants to see a “job” accomplished or a vision fulfilled, but she does it in a way that shows value and worth to individuals. She makes room for their personality, their gifts, their contribution, and their ideas. She respects their time, their feelings, and their own dreams and aspirations.
A leader sees her role as one of creating space for people to learn and grow and accomplish and contribute. (All of which helps someone to feel significant.) She is concerned with the process, not just the outcome.
How do management and leadership relate to parenting?
Mid-way through my teaching session, I began to think of my parenting. (It’s almost impossible for me to not think of parenting at this stage in my life.) I couldn’t help but begin to see parallels between my leadership vs management material and different approaches to parenting.
You see, I don’t want to be a manager of my kids. My goal is not to see them fit into a box, check things off a list, learn this, do that, accomplish that, behave like this, don’t say that, do say this, conform here, perform there, and so on and so on.
A manager requires people to serve the vision (the structure, process, organization, business, or parents/family).
A leader inspires and empowers the people to pursue the vision.
My role as a parent is to lead my kids – to influence them and teach them, encourage them, guide them, and inspire them as they learn how to navigate life and relate with the world. I’m not aiming for blind obedience; my hope is to influence them toward maturity and growth and significant contribution to the world around them.
What does it look like to lead—instead of manage—our children?
- Less barking orders and more modeling.
- Less assuming and more active, engaged listening.
- Pausing before dishing out consequences so that I can put myself in their shoes (empathize) and try to uncover the “real” issues behind their behavior.
- Not jumping to conclusions about their motives.
- Not projecting my own preferences on them when it really doesn’t matter.
- Respecting their need for space, comfort, affection, attention, time, need to be heard, desire to make decisions, etc. and—when possible and safe—relating to them on their own terms.
- Setting them up to succeed but providing grace for them should they fail. (And not making it impossible for them to fail – but allowing them to fail safely.)
- Guarding our relationships and prioritizing our connection, especially during times of stress or change.
- Modeling good manners, not just instructing them.
- Coaching in how to relate to others, not merely dictating or demanding certain behaviors.
- Not continually pulling rank on them flippantly with “because I’m the mom” or “because I said so” or other end-of-discussion quips. (There’s usually a far better reason or response than these patronizing answers.) This doesn’t mean you never pull the “mom card” (parenting by consensus or democracy is not a good idea either). It just means using that card sparingly and intentionally – not using it by default.
- Shifting my goal of parenting from producing compliant children to raising children who know how to think and reason and ultimately make good decisions for themselves.
- Making a bigger deal about respect and kindness, humility and generosity than I do about flawless obedience and diligent performance.
Leading our children is not easy.
Leadership is not easy – not in the workplace, in ministry settings, or in our homes. It’s not as straightforward as management, and it’s far more time consuming. It involves coaching and modeling and patience and do-overs and problem solving and listening and teaching and very, very deliberate communication.
It must be grounded in love and respect, trust and freedom, servanthood and humility.
As time-consuming as it is, developing our leadership as parents is worth it – knowing our kids will learn to respond from a place of trust (producing lasting fruit) rather than responding out of fear-based obedience (producing temporary fruit).
Leadership begets leadership.
If we manage our children, we may end up with very dutiful kids who on the surface are well behaved and pleasant in the immediate, but have not developed the crucial ability to make (good) decisions for themselves when no one is there to tell them how to behave or what choices are best for them. I see the results of this in far too many of the young adults I work with; they have never learned how to make their own choices well and so although they may be well mannered and good performers, they lack conviction and maturity and adult decision-making skills.
If you lead your children well, they will learn how to lead themselves well. And, in turn, they will know how to treat and relate to others well.
So as we’re able, let’s work on being great leaders in our homes so that our children will grow up empowered and inspired to live life well, instead of just great managers producing children who know when to say “please” and “excuse me” and “yes, mom”.
Dear friends, I am not a parenting expert, and I have far more general leadership experience than I do parenting leadership experience. But I can’t help but to see parallels and draw conclusions based on my years of observation of leaders and managers in the work place and within a ministry context. I hope this post is not too presumptuous to write as a parent of only four years – I readily admit I’m still learning and becoming the best parent I can be. I’m translating what I know into my parenting and asking God to help shape me as the revelation comes. And you? What kind of a “person in charge” are you for your children – a leader or a manager? Have you ever thought about what it might mean for you to “lead” your children well?