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Leadership Lessons from My Children

By Pauline Nolte

Pauline Nolte

Leadership. Parenthood. Two things a lot of us aspire to without really knowing what we’re signing up for. My youngest daughter has just started preschool. Unlike her older sister who took to school like a duck to water, we have had to invest a lot more time, energy, and focus into preparing our youngest for the new chapter in her life. This experience has helped me realise that my children have taught me some great lessons about leadership.

We’re all different

Leadership Lessons from my ChildrenAs parents, we think we’re going to breed “mini-me’s,” but we soon realise that each of our children has their own personality, motivations, and skills—not only are they different from you, they are different from one another. As we support our children on their life journeys, we deploy different tactics to help them discover themselves, follow their passions, and bring out their best. Similarly, in the workplace, our teams are often made up of people from different backgrounds who bring unique skills, perspectives, and preferences. As leaders we can’t take a cookie-cutter approach to managing people. A leadership style that motivates and inspires one individual may plunge another into poor performance. Leaders, like parents, must learn to adapt their style and approach to suit individual needs.

One of the tools available to help us focus on the specific needs, motivations, and priorities of individuals is the individual development plan (maybe I should start using one with my children). Working with an individual to craft their development plan will not only tap into their unique potential and aspirations, it also acknowledges the individual value that each person can bring. In a work context the evidence is very clear.; DDI’s latest Global Leadership Forecast research found that an up-to-date development plan directly contributes to higher levels of engagement and employee development (And yet only 36 percent of leaders in the global sample had one!). What do you do to understand and motivate your direct reports to be the best they can be? How many of them have a well-crafted development plan that you regularly review?

We don’t always have all the answers

Unfortunately, newborns don’t come with an instruction manual and, as any new parent will tell you, from day one you are confronted with unfamiliar problems to solve and new decisions to make. We soon realise that the key to success (and sanity) is to draw on others (family, friends, health care workers) who may have more experience, knowledge, and patience than us (or they may just have had more sleep!). Sometimes our children are even well-placed to offer suggestions (Did I just say that?).

Leaders too often rely on their own ideas and miss the opportunity to expand the range of solutions and gain the buy-in and commitment of others. As documented in DDI’s Driving Workplace Productivity Through High-Quality Conversations research, 49 percent of leaders assessed over the last ten years don’t invite ideas from others. When we conducted the study in Australia, that number rose to 55 percent for our leaders. Next time you find yourself solving a difficult problem, challenge yourself not to jump too quickly to presenting the solution. Gather viewpoints and ideas from others to make sure you understand the context of the situation. Then draw on others' ideas and collaborate to agree on the best way forward.

A support network is important

As a working mum, I have built a strong support network of family, friends, and others to help me balance work and home life. Of equal importance are the internal and external partnerships I have forged to help me be successful in the workplace.

One of the interesting findings from our Leaders in Transition research was that leaders moving into new roles turn to colleagues and peers, family and friends, and direct reports rather than turning to their old or new managers for support. Who do you turn to in times of change, stress, or pressure? Make sure you invest the time in developing your support network.

Cut yourself some slack—you’re going to make mistakes

There is no such thing as a perfect parent, and there is no such thing as a perfect leader. We’re all human; we’re going to make mistakes. My children have taught me that life goes on. When something doesn’t work out as planned, take some time to reflect on what you did and what you could have done differently. What action can you take or skill can you build to improve your impact next time? Which derailer can you manage to prevent the situation from arising again? We need to learn from our mistakes and encourage our team members to do the same.

Enjoy the ride!

My dad always says that my sister and I grew up in the blink of an eye. So too will our team members grow, develop, and move on to new chapters in their working lives.  As leaders we should pause to celebrate successes and try to enjoy our own leadership journey and the vital role we play in helping other people on theirs.

Good luck on your journey as parents and as leaders. What have you learnt about leadership from your children?

Pauline Nolte is a strategic account manager in DDI Australia’s Sydney office.

Posted: 23 Feb, 2015,
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