Why Being A Great Boss And A Great Parent Aren’t As Different As We Think

When we think about great parents, we tend to use words like loving, nurturing and kind.  Yet when describing high performing bosses, we’re more likely to talk about being decisive, tough and directive.

Parenting, especially mothering, is viewed as soft and sweet, while leadership is firm and aggressive.  Parenting and Leading

Yet in reality, great bosses and great parents are all those things.

We may like to think of home and work as separate animals, believing that one requires a soft approach (home) while the other (work) requires a tougher mindset.   But leadership is leadership, no matter where you practice it.

As my own children get older, I’m realizing more and more just how similar parenting and leading really are.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re leading a family, a company or a country. If you’re in charge, your job is to create an environment that nurtures the skills and talents of the people you’re responsible for.

Webster defines nurture as “the sum of the environmental factors influencing the behavior and traits expressed by an organism,” and nurturing is to “further the development of” something or someone.

Leadership is about nurturing talent. The secret of being a great leader is mastering the dichotomy of being both firm and kind in order to bring out the best in others.

I was talking to my seventeen-year-old daughter the other day as she was struggling with a challenging school situation.  While it was tempting to share (broadcast) my motherly wisdom and simply tell her what to do, I drew upon every bit of my coaching training to help her work through the process of clarifying her own goals.

I’m sure I didn’t do it perfectly, but taking a business-oriented managerial approach resulted in a much better outcome than giving her a lecture.

I find that I’m always a better parent when I consciously use my leadership training, and I’m always a better boss and business coach when I tap into my mothering instincts.

People are people, whether they’re sitting at a kitchen table or a conference table.  We don’t need to abandon caring and kindness at work any more than we need to forget about strategy and planning with our kids.

Here are four things great leaders – at home and work – do:

Establish clear expectations: Whether it’s unloading the dishwasher or keeping the inventory down, when you show people exactly what good looks like, it’s much easier to hold them accountable.

Listen before reacting: Great leaders make sure their people feel heard. You don’t have to fulfill every request, and you still get to make the final call.  You just have to let your team know that you take their input seriously.

Teach through questions: Today’s crisis, be it a lost report or a lost report card, is a teachable moment. Rather than rescuing or berating their people, great leaders let them experience natural consequences and then calmly ask them how they’ll handle it differently in the future.

Work yourself out of a job: It’s not just about getting the product out the door or making an A on the test.  At the end of the day, success as a leader is measured by how well your people can make decisions when you’re not there.

Because, as we all know, one day you’re really not going to be around. That’s why you’re teaching your team how to be an even better leader than you are.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant. The founder and principal of McLeod & More, Inc, she specializes in sales and leadership training. Her newest book, The Triangle of Truth, has been cited as the blueprint for “how smart people can get better at everything.” Visit for a short video intro.   Copyright 2010 Lisa Earle McLeod.  All rights reserved.