I have often threatened friends, family, and colleagues that I am going to write a book someday. The title of my book will be Everything I Needed to Know About Management, I Learned From Raising Children.
I have been a parent for 25 years. I have been a manager of people for about 20 years. The similarities between the two when it comes to the creation of a successful outcome are astounding.
“…but here’s the thing. Business is business. Wall Street, Main Street, it’s all just a bunch of people getting up in the morning, trying to figure out how the hell they’re gonna send their kids to college. It’s just people…” – Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage in The Family Man; extremely underrated by the way).
Or as Spanky from The Little Rascals used to say, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool Mom!”
So, what lessons have I learned from parenting that can be applied to business?
They cry when they’re hungry.
While business colleagues will usually not shed actual tears, their “crying” will manifest itself in several ways, all of which let you know that they are hungry – for a promotion, for more responsibility, for a bigger office, etc. It is the parent’s job to know what type of meal is best for their child that will allow them to grow up healthy and strong. You don’t give steak to a newborn and you don’t use a bottle with a middle schooler. Similarly, each person you manage has unique “dietary needs” that you are responsible for satisfying.
When they sit quietly and their face gets contorted and flushed, you are going to have to clean up a mess.
Nobody wants to admit when they are making a “stinky.” But, everyone does it. As parents, we need to recognize when this occurs, so we can clean up the mess promptly and avoid rashes and infections. Every employee is going to screw up. The vast majority will not admit it. It is embarrassing. You need to recognize the signs and address the situation before the whole company smells.
I CAN DO IT MYSELF!
Play at the “big kids” playground. Get dressed on your own. Ride a bike. Use power tools. Drive a car. We need to appreciate and balance the need for independence with the likelihood of fatality. We are supposed to know better. That’s why we are the parents / managers. I assume that I know the outcome better than my child or better than my colleague. Yet, they soooo want to do “it.” So, I ask myself one simple question: “Is it fatal?” If I am right about the outcome, will it be fatal to my child or my company? If they want to go outside with no coat on and it’s 50 degrees, not fatal. Go ahead. You’ll be cold and you will learn an important lesson for the next time. If they want to go outside with no coat and it is -10 degrees, fatal. I put my foot down.
But Billy’s parents let him do it!
We ALL know the classic response to this. Say it with me now – “If Billy’s parents let him jump off the roof…” Know your values. Know your standards. Instill those values in your children and your colleagues. They are your True North and they will guide you better than any compass through life and business. Oh, and being forced to take a bath and put on your pajamas before dinner on summer nights when all your friends are outside playing “kick the can” – well, I’ll (uh, I mean, they’ll) get over that, too.
Well, you see, there was… And, then…But, before that…Um, I forgot that…
This is also known as the “Do You Think I’m Stupid?” scenario. From the time that the child can talk, all the way up until their most recent performance review, they are “spinning.” There is always a rationale. There is always an explanation. Remember my favorite saying: “There are no excuses. There are only consequences.” Our job as leaders – of children and of professionals – is to separate the fact from the fiction; the “spin” from the “no spin zone.” It is hard to accept the consequences of our actions. It is harder to live a life or do a job without ever being held accountable for your consequences.
If you follow these simple rules (and buy my book when it comes out), then, you too, will receive the ultimate gift from raising children / raising leaders – the opportunity, in your later years, to sit back and let someone else do all of the work!
Oh yeah, and you get this, too – “I love you, Dad.”
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.