After becoming a parent, my management skills improved. As a parent, I learned that my baby got hungry and pooped on his timetable and not mine. I learned to be flexible and adaptable. I also learned that I could have some influence. I could adjust the times he slept and got hungry (but not pooped). It took patience and discipline. I learned that not all babies were created equally. Baby number two (Kevin) wasn’t content to sit and play with his food. Baby number one (Mike) would stay in one spot for hours, playing with his food, while I worked on getting a report out. Being flexible, having patience, creating discipline and adapting to individual styles were all management skills I learned from being a parent.
Unconsciously, I applied these skills to managing professionals in a corporate setting. I have taken many management courses and had a wealth of experience in the practice of management – however, having the experience of being a parent is where the application of these techniques became real for me.
One lesson I took from a parenting book was about ensuring that you give more positive than negative feedback. I had to learn to rephrase things positively. Research shows that this is also a component in building high-performing teams. In teaching my son to use eating utensils instead of his fingers, rather than repeatedly saying “no fingers,” I removed the word “no” and would say things like:
- Only a fork with food on it goes in your mouth.
- Fingers are best for playing.
- Eating works best when the fork goes into your mouth.
- Notice how your dad puts the fork in his mouth.
- You are smart; I know you can figure out where the fork goes.
The objective is to communicate and keep the focus on the positive. For this reason, when I did screech “no” on occasion for safety reasons, they did listen. “No” was a serious redirection and a rare word.
I unconsciously kept this habit in place as a manager. I would rephrase and redirect to a more positive perspective, bypassing the word “no.” The trick is to redirect positively without losing the intended message by being too positive, too polite, or too nice. Somehow it worked; my son (now grown) uses a fork. It does take practice. Rephrasing to positive statements without losing the clarity of intent from your initial message may not come easily, but it will help you to succeed both in business and in life.
So while those days of parenting can feel long and repetitive, they’re also reinforcing skills that parents can take with them into managerial roles for the rest of their careers. I’m grateful for those days when my kids were small for so many reasons, including the management skills I learned from them.