Are You a Leader or a Manager? | How Leadership Changes Our Parenting

How leadership changes our parenting and influences our kids.

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.

But people?

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?


Like this? You might also like: Parenting to Build Relationships (Not Robots)

About Author

Adriel Booker is an author, speaker, and advocate based in Sydney, Australia who believes storytelling, beauty, and the grace of God will change the world. Adriel has become a trusted voice in areas of motherhood and parenting, Christian spirituality, and global women's issues. She's also known for her work with the Love A Mama Collective—serving under-resourced women in developing nations through safe birth initiatives—as well as her years spent as a Bible teacher and leadership coach. Her latest book is Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss and she's made the companion grief journal available for free. Find Adriel across all social media platforms at @adrielbooker or sign up for LoveNotes, Adriel's 'secret posts' that aren't published anywhere else online. ✌️


  • Dena Dyer
    23 November 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Adriel, this article is great! I’m linking to it and featuring it as an “editor’s pick” over at The High Calling this weekend. Great work!

  • Jill
    26 November 2013 at 7:30 am

    Hi Adriel, I am that managed child (maybe i chose to be managed) and now over 40 married with 10 & 8 yr old girls I still feel i lack conviction & confidence to make my own decisions against significant others’ opinions. How then can i hope to lead my kids? Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Walt
      3 December 2013 at 12:35 am

      Just a quick note, Jill. As a child of an alcoholic broken family, myself, God is bigger. No need to hope that you lead your children. You do. And they see and hear your love. And God is full of redemption.

    • Adriel
      18 December 2013 at 10:34 pm

      Hi Jill. I definitely agree with Walt. God is a redeemer by nature and nothing taught to us can’t be unlearned. I know that addressing faulty thought patterns is not an easy task, but I believe it is possible. Might I recommend a book to help you? Perhaps check out one of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s books – She writes extensively on re-training your brain and it’s good, good research-based stuff. Also, just the fact that you can recognize where you’re at and your own weaknesses? That something that many grown adults can’t even do. That speaks volumes about your character and ability to mother your children well. Be encouraged, dear one. xo
      Adriel recently posted..The dream and the wait: On being born, put to death, and resurrected My Profile

  • Walt
    3 December 2013 at 12:30 am

    What a great post, Adriel. Passing it on to all my children (one 24, and triplets that are 21 – whew). Keep writing and it is not presumptuous at all to apply your leadership ideas to parenting. Most parents parent by default thinking that great parenting just happens. It is refreshing and encouraging to hear someone acknowledge that it is a skill. I liken it to plumbing, not rocket science but it sure helps a lot to learn a few things. And fortunately, by grace, if you do it fairly well, your kids’ learning curve won’t be quite so steep.

  • Danelle
    12 December 2013 at 5:20 am

    Oh my word! So well said. Thank you for writing this. I have come to acknowledge and understand this revelation in the past year of my parenting and boy has it changed my relationship with my son!

  • James Ejiwale
    6 August 2019 at 6:59 am

    May I seek your permission to reference “WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE TO LEAD—INSTEAD OF MANAGE—OUR CHILDREN?” in my book? Your work will be appropriately documented (cited and referenced) as one of the important resources for parenting. Thanks and blessings as you impact lives!
    James Ejiwale recently posted..Yes, another lossMy Profile


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