Are leaders like mothers and fathers? In many ways the answer to this question is yes, but in some big ways it is no. This question can be evaluated from the perspective of both the leader and those whom are being led. In our Milk To Maturity series, Chris and I explored the stages of a maturing leader and the significance of mentoring at each stage. This mentoring is a form of parenting, only different. There are two primary differences between parenting children and leading adults; age and love. Assuming you work with adults, while there is a difference in maturity between a thirty year old and a fifty year old, they are technically both in the adult category. Love however, is not a word used much at work. Can you imagine saying goodbye to your co-worker like you do your kids. “Goodbye Bobby, see you tomorrow, I love you!” Say that more than once and you will find yourself in HR with some explaining to do.
In the recent release of his new book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek goes beyond the sentiment of his first book Start With Why and realizes that while why you do something is important, who you do it with is equally important. Sinek explores leaders who put the best interests of others before themselves, much like a parent would, and finds out keys to creating teams that pull together.
One of the ideas in the book is to look past the numbers, or report cards keeping the parenting analogy going. You might get frustrated when your kid has a mark on their report card that is less than stellar, especially when you know they can do better. While you might get upset and take away some privileges until they get that mark up, you are careful not to attack their identity. Even if the grade is an ‘F’ you wouldn’t call them a failure. You would take extra time with them and encourage them and help them bring out the potential you see in them. They may have failed the class, but they are not a failure. Every person on your team is someone’s kid, at least at some point in their lives they were. If you look at their annual review, or some other spreadsheet that tracks performance, and see some less than stellar indicators, how do you respond? Do you respond looking only at the numbers or do you respond with potential in mind? Be careful here, if you respond with potential in mind, that could be construed by some as showing love at work. You wouldn’t want to be accused of that would you?
Another concept of the book discusses the great responsibility of leaders. Do you remember your childhood? Probably most of you do. Do you remember past bosses? Again, most of you do. Both your parents and your past bosses have in some way molded or at least strongly influenced who you are today. That is an awesome responsibility. How you treat people at work on your team literally helps mold them into the people they will become. Whether you acknowledge this or not, when you lead people, the impact of your leadership lasts a lifetime. Have you ever worked for a boss who understood this impact? If so, you probably know it, if not, well, you know that too.
In the military, specifically the marines, the senior marines in the chow hall can be found at the end of the line, letting the junior marines eat first. This mindset not only exists in the chow hall, it is evident on the battlefield. Want someone to go to war with you? Let them feel like they are more important to you than you are. Sinek calls it the circle of safety and he shows how it leads to stable, adaptive, confident teams, where everyone feels they belong and all energies are devoted to facing the common enemy and seizing big opportunities. Work to create an environment where you won’t have to say, “Goodbye Bobby, see you tomorrow, I love you!” Make Bobby feel like he is first and he will know it.