You’re a Parent. You’re A Leader.
When I thought of leadership in the past, and today to some extent, I think of its three primary forms. Power, authority and influence. Power is the ability to make things go the way you want them to go, regardless of what anyone else has to say. It really only exists in a brief moment, because after a time followers begin to recognize that they can go against you should they want a different path. Authority is legitimized power. Essentially, the group or followers gives up some of their power to a leader, willingly, so that the leader can guide the group as a whole. Democratic societies are a good example of this. But the strongest form of leadership and the form that we often times don’t fully recognize is influence. Leadership by influence is when the leader thinks, acts and behaves in a way that others find value in and then begin to govern themselves off of the leaders example. Based on this definition we all can begin to see and recognize the myriad of leaders we have had in our own lives. But also, we can see ways we may not have even recognized that we were leaders. And greatest of all of these examples is our leadership as a parent.
The greatest understanding of what it means to be a parent/leader I gained, from all places, was when I worked in a juvenile lockup facility. One of my jobs that I have had in my career was that of a juvenile supervision officer in a juvenile detention facility when I was in my mid to late twenties. Worded differently: I was a correctional officer for kids jail. Now working in that environment we where always cautioned and held accountable for what we would say and do by our supervisors. I never questioned this rule, but I did assume it was for our safety and that of our clients. But one day while working in a unit with a colleague with far more experience, he asked why I believed we were trained to be so careful with our actions around detainees. I gave him the standard answer of “safety & security.” He agreed, but said that it was more than that. He explained that a lot of our kids came from environments that didn’t raise up their self worth and encourage them to be all that they could possibly be. And when they came to our facility, for whatever reason, what did they have to do all day? He paused. I waited. Then he said, “All they have to do all day is watch you. They know things about you and your habits that you aren’t even aware of. They are learning lessons from your behavior that you aren’t even intending to teach.” Wow! What did I get from that. Be impeccable with your word and honest, open and deliberate with your behavior.
So if these teenagers were getting this from me when I was with them for only eight hours a day, five days a week, what leadership lessons are my children getting from me? They are with me, pretty much, always. So what are some of the keys to being a leader of influence with your kids in your own home?
1. Remember that you are the parent and they are the child. Sounds easy enough to remember, but there is a piece that we often forget or do not know. Your child’s brain development is not complete until they are about 25-27 years old. And the part of the brain that is last to develop to maturity is the pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that makes executive decisions and where moral reasoning takes place. What does the pre-frontal cortex manage and control? Well…
- Organization of multiple tasks
- Impulse inhibition
- Self control
- Setting goals and priorities
- Empathizing with others
- Initiating appropriate behavior
- Making sound judgments
- Forming Strategies
- Planning ahead
- Adjusting behavior when situations change
- Stopping an activity upon completion
So when I say that they are not “grown up yet”, all I am saying is that they are not grown up yet. The patience you showed your two year old also needs to be extended to you young adult. Sure the circumstances are different and their ability to interact with you looks more adult that child-like, but the truth is the ability to self-regulate and make moral and ethical decisions is still developing.
2. It’s all about deeds not words. Children, tweens, teens, young adults do not pay attention to what you say. They pay attention to what you do and model themselves after it. When your deeds and words matchup, the next go around they may be a bit more likely to take you at your word. But only if you have been true to it in the past. Remember, all they do when around you is observe your behavior.
3. Hold yourself accountable, but also be gentle with yourself. When you say you are going to do something, if you are invested in it, do it. Follow through. If you blow off a commitment or fall short, hold yourself accountable. Figure out how you fell short, ways you can improve and if you want to, take on that challenge again. Once you have done that, no more scolding or beating up on yourself. Acknowledge you did the best you were able to do in that moment and move on. Be gentle with yourself. There are more than enough people in the world who will be harsh with you over a mistake or misstep. This tip is important because you are able to show your resilience and love that you have for yourself. Model it and you will begin to see your child being just as tender and caring of themselves as you are to yourself. Remember, your the leader and they are modeling themselves after your behaviors. You may tell them to be good to themselves after an unintended mistake, but if they see you beating yourself up over a mistake, that is where they take their cues.
4. Hold yourself accountable, but also be gentle with yourself. When you say you are going to do something, if you are invested in it, do it. Follow through. If you blow off a commitment or fall short, hold yourself accountable. Figure out how you fell short, ways you can improve and if you want to, take on that challenge again. Once you have done that, no more scolding or beating up on yourself. Acknowledge you did the best you were able to do in that moment and move on. Be gentle with yourself. There are more than enough people in the world who will be harsh with you over a mistake or misstep. This tip is important because you are able to show your resilience and love that you have for yourself. Model it and you will begin to see your child being just as tender and caring of themselves as you are to yourself. Remember, your the leader and they are modeling themselves after your behaviors. You may tell them to be good to themselves after an unintended mistake, but if they see you beating yourself up over a mistake, that is where they take their cues.
5. Allow them to lead. So as I said before, I am coming from the idea of leadership being influence. So allow your child to see and experience that they influence you. Let them see that they lead you. In truth, they do this more often than they are aware. As parents a large majority of our decisions are based on the direction we are leading are family. But a lot of the deep thought and planning that goes on here typically takes place behind “closed doors”. But when an opportunity arises to let you child lead you, allow them too. You can allow them to choose where the family is going for dinner by encouraging them to not only choose the restaurant but by explaining their rationale. Encourage them to come up with a plan of attack for the entire family on spring cleaning day or you may encourage them to come up with a family outing and work out the planning and responsibilities of the trip. You be the one to give your child experiences where they can lead. And the great thing about allowing them to lead their family is that should a mistake happen or plans go awry, they are with a loving and caring group who wants the best for them.
6. Apologize when you are wrong. One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave to me (and there were many) was when they apologized to me when they made a mistake with me. Each time it happened it blew my mind. It wasn’t that they made any kind of large mistake. It was that their apology acknowledged that they were human and not infallible. And it acknowledged me as an important member of the team, our family. It said that my worth and opinion of them was important to them. It was important enough to them that they didn’t want to damage our relationship by not acknowledging when they may have been wrong. What that did for my self-esteem resonates to this day and it is a gift that I passed along to every child I have worked with professionally. And most importantly, it is something that I do with my sons today. It allows me to be fallible, make mistakes, carry-on and continue to lead them and myself forward in our lives.
Remember that leadership in its strongest form is influence. And that when it comes to your child, your influence is the most powerful in their lives, bar none. Model for them the example of living you want for them. And then when they are grown adults with kids of their they just might thank you for it. But even if they don’t you will know that you tried to give the best of you to them.
This article is reprinted with kind permission from Mr. Bill Mayes, a Parent/Family Coach. His website is: http://www.billmayeslifecoach.com/