On leadership and little people
As of COB today I will be on maternity leave for the second time; needless to say my mind is ticking
over (time!) with everything that needs to be done to prepare for the latest edition to our growing
In addition to the seemingly endless to-do list to complete in an ever-decreasing window of time, my
wee-small- hour-of- the-morning musings have recently centred upon something greater than
practical actions to be ticked off… it’s been on how my husband and I, as parents, ensure that we
raise these little people right in what sometimes seems like a world gone mad. Now that’s
something to keep you awake at night!!
As I am sure you can appreciate, this initially was an alarming train of thought, but was soon
followed by a calming insight… Raising little people is actually not that different to how a leader
leads, and given I have worked in the field of leadership for many years, I think I can pull a skill or
two from up my sleeve to help me navigate this multiple-child parenting caper. If you will, please
indulge me as I share with you some of my late-night insights…
- Leaders: As a leader, it is important to nurture and grow your talent. Invest in your people,
show them how their development in identified areas is important to their career
progression, to the team’s (and ultimately the organisation’s) performance. It’s amazing how
much people perform better for ‘praises than raises’, and what better way to recognise
someone than to invest in their future.
- Little people: Encouragement is key – not false praise for every little stroke on a page, but
helping your little person understand what they did well, where they can improve, and what
they can do next to learn more. To know that they have the support of the most important
people in their life (aka, parents) is often enough to move forward and develop as they
borrow your belief in them until they can grow it for themselves.
Show, don’t tell
- Leaders: Lead by example – as the leader you set the tone of what is acceptable, so show
just how prepared you are to do what you ask others to do by getting in there, rolling up
your sleeves, and working on it alongside them. Actions speak louder than words.
- Little people: Monkey see monkey do – Little people are like sponges, so your actions and
attitudes will be emulated regardless of whether they are productive or counterproductive;
best make sure what you say and do is what you would be happy to see demonstrated back
Give timely feedback
- Leaders: The act of feedback is important to help guide an individual’s development and
performance. Granted, most of us with a good level of self-insight know instinctively what
we have done well and what we haven’t (and oftentimes we are our own harshest critic),
but it is very helpful to get an external perspective to steer the course effectively from time
- Little people: Feedback is an important part of parenting to help develop a solid foundation
of what will become self-awareness and self-insight later in life. Children need feedback in
order to shape their understanding of right and wrong, and feedback that is well positioned
and timely can be crucial in their personal development.
- Leaders: It’s not that common to talk about love in the workplace, but leaders who give
‘tough love’ in the right way, at the right time, can often be giving someone a true gift.
Tough love comes from a place of sincerity, where you have the tough conversations
because you care about the other person. It involves being firm but kind on a position where
you have influence, i.e. delivering constructive criticism regarding negative behaviour in a
way that gains buy-in to change. It is rarely easy to receive (or give for that matter), but if it
is given completely with the other person’s best interests at heart then it’s got a much
higher chance of falling on open rather than deaf ears.
- Little people: Just as leaders can give tough love through being firm yet kind, it’s imperative
that parents be the parent and set boundaries through giving some tough love. Sometimes
this is very hard to do (in fact it can be heartbreaking), but if you focus on the greater lesson
that needs to be learnt, this can often give the motivation you need to follow through.
Encourage interaction and learning from multiple sources
- Leaders: We all know that siloed organisations are not as strong as they could be; if there is
little to no cross-unit communication, overall organisational performance can be significantly
impacted. Therefore, leaders who promote secondments, collaborative opportunities, and
cross-team learning, are not only setting up their team for a strong future, but the
organisation as well.
- Little people: Did you know that an individual’s core values are being formed up until about
the age of 7, after which time they are settling deep into one’s psyche into adulthood? This
means that those who are influential in a little person’s life up to that age, i.e. mum, dad,
siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers (television, You Tube… say no more!), are all playing
a part in shaping their little heart and mind. These early influences will go on to form the
paradigms that then shape their thoughts and decisions in adulthood. So, it is great to learn
about life from multiple sources, but choose wisely on who is having an influence over your
children in those critical early years, as you don’t want the wrong things/people to shape
them for you!
Create a psychologically safe environment
- Leaders: With the pace of change ever increasing, creating a learning environment is critical
to enable an organisation to ‘futureproof’ itself. As a leader, it is therefore important that
you allow those around you space to make/learn from mistakes. This walks a fine line with a
leader’s delivery of tough love; in experimenting, people need to know that you have their
back, that you will tell it as it needs to be told, when it needs to be told, and that they are
perfectly safe in their experimentation (even if it is failed experimentation).
- Little people: Children make mistakes. Full stop. But mistakes are actually critical on the path
of learning what to do and what not to do. It is therefore important for children to
understand that they won’t get in trouble for trying and failing when experimenting.
- Leaders: It’s not all work work work! Do the team building activities, have down time,
celebrate the morning teas, etc. – it may not seem important on the surface, but team
bonding and relationship building is critical for future stability, especially in these turbulent
times. Teams that play together stay together, simple as that.
- Little people: Get down on the floor, get messy in the yard, and remind yourself what it was
like being a kid. You’ll both love it but for different reasons – ‘play’ is a great stress reliever
for us as parents, and for children is a great way to continue to strengthen the bond
between you. And surely a strong bond developed in childhood will help with ‘those’
teenage years, right…(please, tell me it is so!!!)??
It may come as no surprise to the outsider, but until now I hadn’t anticipated how my background in
organisational psychology, coaching, and leadership could lay the foundation for me raising multiple
little people! I guess it should come as no surprise given that people are people whether they are big
or small, and for the sheer fact that our fundamental human needs don’t change with age!
So lessons for the leader in this? 1. Nurture the development of others; 2. Lead by example; 3. Give
timely feedback coupled with tough love; 4. Encourage learning from multiple sources, 5. Create a
psychologically safe environment, and 6. Have fun. Do these simple things and you can’t go too
wrong if you ask me!
And with that in mind, wish me luck as I take my next voyage into a period of sleepless nights,
endless washing, and toddler tantrums re: jealousy over the baby taking over ‘her mummy’, all
balanced out with much love, joy, and fulfilment. And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other