Brandt On Leadership -- Parenting Your Company To Profits

Dec. 21, 2004
Lessons for leading at home apply at work, too.

There are a lot of complicated theories about how to lead and manage. Yet what if it's really no different than good parenting? Not because employees are children -- they aren't, and if you treat them that way, you're sure to fail -- but because the lessons we learn at home, with the people we care most about, are the ones we ought to take to work, too. To wit: Establishing boundaries: Good parents set good boundaries for their children -- bright lines that delineate what's acceptable and right and what isn't. Within those boundaries, though, wise parents allow their children to find their own ways and preferences in doing things. Children respond to this because they desperately want to know what's expected of them -- and where they can make their own decisions. Wise leaders do the same thing by establishing clear goals for individual, team and organizational success and unmistakable guidelines regarding what types of activities and behaviors are appropriate in reaching those goals. Employees respond to this with a level of comfort that drives performance and innovation -- and profits. Coaching with praise and positive correction: Good parents provide constant feedback to their children -- both on what not to do (or, at least, not to do again) and on what they've done well. Wise parents make sure to criticize the behavior but love the child; someone who endures a childhood of being screamed at or belittled grows into an unsuccessful adult who does the same in an attempt to exorcise the sins of the fathers. Wise leaders manage by hating the mistake but supporting the employee. Great coaches provide feedback, direction and encouragement; they know that cowed employees are unhappy and unproductive employees. These coaches also understand the trickle-down theory of management: However you treat your direct reports is how they will treat theirs. A culture of fear and criticism -- created by your relentless carping -- always leads to fear of innovation, and diminishing revenues. Allowing for growth: Good parents accept that as their children grow they will not only take more responsibility for themselves, but will also question the judgment and intentions of their parents. Wise parents embrace this skepticism and independence as the beginning of self-reliance and remain patient even when it annoys them to no end. Wise leaders are similarly sensitive to the changing needs of a workforce and individual employees as training and empowerment change what they want and need from management. The goal of every leader should be to make him- or herself unnecessary for day-to-day operations -- so that he or she can focus on growth and the future. Pushing for success: Good parents judiciously encourage their children to try new things, even when the children are anxious or have no confidence in their abilities. Wise parents understand that only by taking risks will their children achieve the greatness they have within. Wise leaders do the same, by pushing employees out of their comfort zones and into new situations -- with customers, with new management assignments, with projects beyond their current skills. These leaders accept the fact that although progress will sometimes be fitful and nonlinear, the long-term benefits resulting from expansion in employee confidence and abilities will more than outweigh any temporary discomfort or loss of productivity. How well are you parenting your company? John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!