Corporate Culture Perspective: How Great Leadership and Great Parenting Are Alike

I play two main roles in life: Corporate culture consultant to leaders and a parent of two teenagers.

I am often struck by the similarities between these two jobs.

If you happen to be doing both jobs – you have the perfect opportunity to cross-train.

I consider these 6 rules the basic foundation of a happy family and a happy corporate culture. See how you can apply them to both domains in your world:

1) Share your toys.

Most parents spend a great deal of time working on this rule in the family. We want our kids to learn that sharing is better than hoarding. Even when we don’t want to, we know it feels better and creates relationship.

Leaders also struggle with this rule – Whose territory is that global customer? Who gets our limited IT development resources first?  Which business unit(s) should we pour more resources into this year?  How can competing needs for “shared services” share the “toys”?  Running interference with people who wear the “That’s mine!” hat, can exhaust many leaders.  It takes patience to develop clarity on fluffy concepts like competition, collaboration, coordination, and compromise.

If people were rewarded for “generosity” as much they are for competition and winning, I wonder how families and the corporate world would benefit?

2) Tell the truth.

Most parents would say “telling the truth” is value #1 in their family. Integrity or honesty typically appear on every corporation’s “Values” list.

If that’s so, why are businesses spending billions of dollars on mandatory “ethics training”? I think almost everyone knows what it means to “do the right thing.” But research by social psychologists shows that we lie often and as easily as we breathe or sweat! It comes with being human.*

*Dr. David Smith, philosophy professor, at the University of New England and author of Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind

“What is a lie?” Omitting a criticism of the leader’s idea? Promising attention or rewards, then discovering you cannot follow through?  Saying one thing, realizing later it wasn’t accurate?

Putting aside conscious mis-use of power and dishonesty, there is an epidemic of “soft-pedaling the truth” in our culture. We are warned that if you say what you really think it’s a “career limiting move.” Teams struggle to meet expectations set by others — leaders, sales teams — rather than raise the “impossible!” flag.  We tell the boss what they want to hear, even when we know it can’t be done.

If “telling the truth” were a commitment to accept responsibility for what you know, act in alignment with that knowledge to the best of your ability, and not tromp on other’s rights … I wonder how families and the corporate world would transform?

3) Ask for what you want – nicely.

The word “No” is one of the first things a child learns in our culture (and most developed cultures as well). Nature’s way of establishing ourselves as individuals I guess, yet it leads to people who are more likely to say what they don’t want.

The inundation of negative messages from the popular media and the over-desire to protect our children at all costs also reinforce this tendency. “Don’t eat too much candy.” “Don’t run out in the street.” Don’t talk to strangers.”

People in this culture are trained to put more attention on what we don’t want versus on what we can say “yes” to and what we do want. “What I’d like is…”  “What I wish for is….” “Can I have ….”  “

Be clear what you want … and then ask for it nicely. Practice this daily and create a revolution in the family and the corporate world.

4) Play nice in the sandbox.

There is a powerful leadership presupposition that will change your life if you live by it:

“Every behavior has a positive intent.“

“Mary didn’t wake up this morning to create trouble.” I wonder what her intention was?

“Paul didn’t wake up this morning to derail your project.” I wonder what his intention was?

Regularly reminding people about the presence of positive intent can transform any situation. Only hard-core cynics remain committed to the mischievous nature of the human race in the face of realizing that we all really want the same things: Respect, a sense of belonging, being useful.

When you ask the question “What do we imagine the positive intention of that person was?” on a regular basis, you’ll find out how powerful transformation can happen from one simple question.

5) When conflict happens, both parties are equally responsible.

While this may not be the exact truth, it’s helpful to act as if it is.  Disagreement that escalates into fighting is never one-sided (bullying or oppressive dictatorship aside). This rule is about learning to internalize the concept of personal responsibility.

Once you get past the “he said, she said” polarity of any two positions, you can turn your attention to “What is the common purpose in this situation, that you both share?”  “What kind of give-and-take might allow you both to have something you want?”  Or, if you can’t agree “If we agree to disagree on this, what can we each do to ensure we maintain trust in the relationship?”

Want to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in negotiation and conflict resolution training? Want to improve your marriage?

Apply these simple questions in your family and workplace.

6) Structure works better than no structure.

In a world of constant change, structure lets people know what they can count on, especially when you don’t have all the answers and things are uncertain.

My daughter had 9 years of early Montessori education. She thrived in an environment where the schedule was known and the goals were clear, and she was given the freedom to choose her work.  8:00 – Circle time to set our day.  9:00 – Time for math (which was assigned but you got to choose the order of the work you completed during the hour, or pick from several activities). 10:00 – snack.  11:00 – Storytime.  11:30 – lunch.

She became a super-responsible and disciplined person, which I believe is partly a result of that environment.

When we have family routines, things are smoother.  Chores on Saturday. Pancakes on Sunday. Movie in the afternoon after our work is done. One of their most-requested routines is the weekly menu that gets posted on Sunday afternoon – so they know what’s for dinner the whole week.  Simple stuff that grounds us amidst the crazy “unknown-factor” we all experience.

Most organizations are not well-balanced in this regard:  Typically there is too much micro-management and emphasis on rules and authority and too little structure for problem solving and decision making.  Most corporate meetings could benefit from a more involved, engaged structure to facilitate discussion and problem-solving, versus the one-way PowerPoint fests that people check out from.

If we all gave a little more attention to creating structure that allows for healthy self-discipline and clarity , I wonder how our families and the corporate world would benefit?

Nobody needs a whole bunch of new rules to follow.

However, since we each “lead” someone in some way, boiling it down to a few tried and true practices I do both at work and home makes life easier. This is useful multi-tasking.

Bon chance!

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