9 Parenting Principles to Make You a Better Manager

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Written by Inessa Yusupov,
• 10 min read
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Baby not required.

Whether or not you have a mini-me in your life, taking on the perspective of a parent-child relationship may be a fresh way to achieve new levels of success in your position or refresh your workplace relationships. Regardless of which parenting or managerial style you subscribe to, you may find that the role of a manager parallels the role of a parent as both focus on mentorship and growth. Everybody’s way of operating is vastly different, but here are a few parent-inspired mindsets that I’ve experienced success with.

Mindset #1: We’re all just big babies.

Yes, my first recommendation is to treat people like they’re children. Although most would immediately declare this approach belittling and insulting, I encourage you to take a peek at it from a different lens. The fresh, untrained, and highly moldable mind of a child typically brings out our more tolerant side with greater levels of patience. We are excited by their curiosity and unexpected creativity because we perceive them as a blank slate full of potential, but most importantly, we understand that elevating their skillset takes time and clear communication. Why does this work? Starting or refreshing your relationship with this open and hopeful mindset conveys an air of mutual respect as it makes your teammates feel that you value their thought process and are keeping the lines of communication open and clear.

Getting started with this mindset:

  • Be receptive and open to all questions and conversations in a consistent and reliable manner. Your goal is to create a safe environment where people feel comfortable seeking your help rather than having to chase people down after something goes awry. Nobody wins when someone feels too scared or too stupid to seek clarification or knowledge.
  • Treat every idea like it’s a good idea for at least five minutes. It’ll leave your teammates feeling empowered and inspired. By having this “and” mindset opposed to a “but” mindset, you act as a sounding board for their ideas. Don’t be surprised if when you give even the worst of ideas a chance that they’ll lead your team to the big idea you were looking for.

Mindset #2: Learn their language.

If you watch a child go through the stages of acquiring language skills, you’ll notice that they become inconsolably frustrated and even hostile when they are unable to communicate their needs or understand their parents’ demands. Without a shared language and clarity in your conversations, both parties are left frustrated and, oftentimes, full of resentment. While any good relationship starts with communication, a great relationship thrives on understanding.

Getting started with this mindset:

  • Establish a shared language with one another and summarize each others thoughts to confirm that you’ve understood each other. Make no assumptions.
  • Shed the buzzwords and loaded jargon when communicating with your team members (and encourage them to do the same) because comprehension is more important than sounding smart. Layman lingo can go a long way. Need some inspiration? Peruse the ELI5 subreddit. Explain Like I’m 5 is a judgement-free sub-forum on Reddit that allows for any and all questions (even seemingly stupid ones) to be submitted with hopes of getting responses that cleverly simplify complex answers into something that could be comprehended by a 5-year-old. This type of simplicity helps to eradicate assumptions and reduce misunderstandings while also demonstrating your industry expertise without cheaply flaunting industry jargon.
  • Get creative with metaphors. It’s a great way to convey unfamiliar ideas using common concepts, especially when you’re working with people across different specialties.

Mindset #3: There’s no such thing as a bad student.

A somewhat controversial, yet actionable mindset is that there are no bad students, only unsuccessful teachers. Choosing to perceive someone as a lost cause means that you feel powerless when it comes to fostering growth. This perceived loss of control is dangerous for both you and your charges as it can lead to feelings of failure and resentment, which may damage your relationship and deflate the both of you. But if you modify your approach and ask yourself how you can change, that puts control back in your hands. To shamelessly quote the father from Disney’s Mulan, “the flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”

Getting started with this mindset:

  • Don’t fall into the trap of believing that being the one who changes means that you’re the one at fault for lack of progress. Skip the blame game and focus on your objective.
  • Help them find their passion, which is that thing that fuels their curiosity. Remember that sometimes their passions lie hidden in plain sight. We’ve all heard a parent in our lives complain about their child flunking out of class because they’re, "lazy and impossible to engage." And then you find out that that same child is godlike at video games, which, more often than not, require a great amount of focus, problem-solving ability, and dedication. In this instance, the question isn’t, “what is wrong with my child?” The parents should be asking, “what do video games offer that their education does not?”
  • Use design thinking to brainstorm solutions together with your charges. It will show them that you care about their success, provide insight into their mindset, and give the both of you actionable outcomes that you can be held accountable for.
  • Variety. Not only for them, but for you. The best way to inspire is by being the muse, so embrace your hobbies and passions and let your positive energy reinvigorate those around you. And remember, if there is something you avoid, it may at their expense.

Mindset #4: Don’t let baby bully you.

It’s basic human nature to test boundaries and leniences. By being strictly black and white on the more operational side of things, you’ll have a clear set of expectations to adhere to. This clarity helps children and adults alike become more decisive and independent. Fewer clarifying and testing questions will have to be asked, which means more time saved for the both of you.

Getting started with this mindset:

  • Be sure to set boundaries and expectations around process-oriented needs like how you prefer to have deliverables submitted or establish office hours. Avoid setting restrictions around more cerebral things that may stifle creativity like brainstorms and ideation methods.
  • Just because you’re setting boundaries, doesn’t mean you can’t (or won’t) be questioned from time to time. This is something to embrace rather than avoid, as it will force you to rethink your rules and refresh them as needed. After all, boundaries should exist to serve a purpose. Once that purpose expires, so should your rules.
  • You need to plan your time wisely because you’re going to be stretched pretty thin. Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks or facilitate ways to limit the number of interruptions that happen during your most productive time of the day.

Mindset #5: Stand as a unified front.

The path set for the individual should run parallel to that of the department and company as a whole. Setting goals that don’t harmonize with the grander scheme of things will surely result in competing expectations that undermine their potential for succeeding and stifle their progress. In the long run, this is detrimental to not only the individual, but the improvement of the company as a whole.

Getting started with this mindset:

  • Set milestones and work to achieve them together. Successful goal-setting typically isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it task.
  • Check in frequently to ensure that company goals versus individual goals haven’t misaligned over time.
  • People typically advance in one area faster than others. This is because they are focusing on mastering other skills. This is important to note because it may be unreasonable to expect improvement to happen if you’ve set goals for a wide assortment of categories. Rest assured that they’ll become advanced at all of them with time.

Mindset #6: Prioritize their self-esteem.

Encourage healthy working habits to help promote a sustainable way of operating. Your goal should be to mold them into a high performer, not a workaholic. This means working together to make the most of their peaks and valleys.

Getting started with this mindset:

  • Avoid glorifying late-night and weekend work. Instead, reward their ability to complete tasks well within the time constraints of their workday. This will encourage them to improve their efficiency and prevent burnout. Remember, it’s not about the illusion of a working individual. It’s about the work that gets done.

Mindset #7: Happiness is their fuel.

What most parents-to-be and new managers don’t realize is that a big portion of the role entails emotional management. It’s no secret that a happy employee is one of the most effective. Give them something to look forward to.

Getting started with this mindset:

  • Happiness is the difference between reality and your expectations. So be honest and realistic whenever possible. Try not to temporarily lift their spirits by overselling or hyping them up. It’s a short term solution that becomes counterproductive over time because it leads to bouts of resentment and distrust.
  • Sometimes fostering happiness means realizing that they are stronger than you think and you need to let them build autonomy by taking full ownership of their work. Other times you need to have a sharp EQ to recognize their weakness and be emotionally available to help identify issues and help them restore equilibrium.
  • Humor is always welcome. If you lead with good spirits, they’re more likely to follow suit.
  • Have regular 1-on1’s to understand their state of mind. The focus of your talking points should go beyond work-related topics.
  • Encourage ways of working that enable good work based on the individual needs of employees. If they’re great when working remotely, help to facilitate opportunities to do so. If work is deadline based, consider allowing for flexible work hours and have regular check-ins if you need them for your own sanity.

Mindset #8: It’s a thankless job.

In many cases, successful growth means taking yourself out of the equation in order for your charge to flourish. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not an intrinsically rewarding job. Both in parenting and management, their wins will become your wins —not to the outside world, but on a personal level. To them, it will always feel like it’s all about them, and that’s ok. They might not always recognize how much you’ve leveled up your charges, but the goal shouldn’t be recognition. The goal is to mold an autonomous individual who has the skills and confidence to thrive.

Getting started with this mindset:

  • Remember, they are not a blank slate for you to mold entirely. They have their own wants and needs so let them drive their vision for their own path because they’re the ones that are meant to take strides along the way. You’re there to help them find the right shoes, hand them a map, and act as their GPS when they stray off course.
  • Celebrate their wins and help to spread the news about their successes. Their achievements are your understated trophies.
  • Show equal support if you have multiple charges. It’s not uncommon to subconsciously pick favorites. Keep yourself in check as it’s easily picked up on by others and can cause resentment and diminish camaraderie. In parenting terms, that means giving all the kids the same color lollipop.

Mindset #9: It takes a village.

Tell me, what lessons from your personal relationships helped you excel in the workplace?