It was leadership expert, Simon Sinek, who compared business leadership to another common role:
“Leadership is like parenting. We have to encourage our kids’ natural capacity and create space for their passions to come alive.”
While Sinek may be the most vocal proponent of this theory, he is not alone in his assertions.
Lawrence Ellyard, author of nine books and CEO of the International Institute for Complementary Therapists (IICT), has over 25 years of experience as a leader within the natural health industry. Ellyard has been instrumental in developing the IICT’s operations within Australia, and internationally, and has adopted much of the 'parental' style of leadership within his own organization.
Micromanagement is the enemy of autonomy
Ellyard views the modern manager as someone who knows how to develop mature employees—teams that can make decisions to benefit the company and themselves. In short, he believes in establishing autonomy. The enemy of autonomy is micromanagement—the propensity to look over others' shoulders, stifle their ideas and snuff out initiative. Research has shown that when you empower your employees, you actually positively affect the bottom line. Empowerment is all about giving employees responsibility and trusting them to 'do the right thing'.
However, just like good parents, managers shouldn’t give autonomy and then abandon employees to their own fate. A good parent gives constructive feedback, tells the child what they have done wrong, and helps them learn from their mistakes. In business, constructive feedback is often a veil for negative comments or personal attacks. Obviously, this is unhelpful. Successful managers are much like encouraging coaches; not just standing idly at the sidelines waiting for people to fail but rather giving people support, every step of the way.
Courageous leaders have the ‘hard conversations’
Whilst some managers avoid difficult conversations, fearing that they’re going to upset the employee, Ellyard advocates a different approach. He says, 'Courage is like muscle. When you build courage, you build muscle. When you don't do something, because you are afraid, you weaken the muscle. Be courageous in all that you do, be strong.' Research actually proves that employees feel more secure and motivated when they receive direct and clear feedback. In other words, people want to know when they’ve gotten something wrong. The real skill is then helping people to learn from those mistakes and grow as a consequence. Ellyard believes that a progressive business allows room for people to make minor mistakes, so long as they're growing: "Get good at failing fast and often; the more you fail, the more you learn and the faster you'll succeed." After all, a parent doesn't abandon a child when they 'mess up'. Rather, they seize the opportunity to teach valuable lessons that lead to the child's growth and development.
Praise, where praise is due
The best way to foster positive behaviors is by offering praise. Sadly, praise is often viewed as a weakness in the corporate world—too much praise might blow up someone's head or make them complacent. However, modern psychology shows that identifying the behavior you like, and complimenting it, increases the likelihood that someone will repeat it. Specificity is important when it comes to praise and requires you to identify what the person did, how it made you feel, and which strength or attribute they displayed. For example, let's look at two common scenarios:
Scenario 1: The boss says, 'Hey, good job today." It's a generic, non-specific comment. The employee doesn't really know what was 'good' about it.
Scenario 2: The boss says, "I love the way that you pitched in that meeting today. It made me feel very proud to be part of this company. I especially loved the fact that you were calm, even when they were grilling you about difficult topics. It’s not easy to keep your cool under such pressure, but you really nailed it." This praise focuses on: what the person did well, how it made the boss feel, and which skills were utilized and is likely to elicit the same behaviors in the future.
Do as I say; not as I do
Ultimately, children, and employees, do not do what they are told, but, rather, what they observe. This is where consistency between words and actions is absolutely crucial. Managers often talk about new initiatives but then fail to back them up with actions. For example, a manager may announce that he wants 'open lines of communication’ and 'feedback from employees'. However, the reality may be that the manager is never around, does not have time to listen to peoples' concerns, and never acts on useful insights. Ellyard comments that, "Authenticity is the foundation to showing up completely in life.' People can tell if you're being genuine or just saying what you think they want to hear. Millennials, in particular, are highly sensitive to a lack of authenticity and may leave such environments to look for other jobs. The essence of 'genuine' leadership, that makes people want to follow you, is based on what Ellyard calls 'radical self-responsibility'. He says, "Look at what you can first change in yourself before casting blame. It's easy to point the finger outside, but real change occurs with radical self-responsibility.”
Secure managers raise up secure protégés
The 'parental' style of management, Ellyard cautions, requires a major attitudinal change. Insecure managers will always be paranoid that someone climbing through the ranks might take their position. As a result, they shy away from mentoring and coaching others. Instead, managers need a complete paradigm shift, along with a large dose of humility. They must put others' needs before their own. They must stop feeling threatened or worried about their position and share in the joy of raising up new leaders.