What can you learn about leadership from parenting?

 This weekend my eldest child begins her training for her expedition to the Amazon and Andes. It seems like only yesterday that she was a helpless and dependent infant.

As I reflect back on my journey as a parent I am humbled by the mammoth learning that I have gained from it and how it has helped to shape who I am today.

 Parenting is much about learning to ‘be a parent’. You can read a ‘how to’ guide, learn from other experienced parents but the real learning comes from practicing it yourself. A more experienced parent may share what works for her  but you will not know whether it works for you and your child until you try it.

We learn to ‘be parents’ through the act of parenting by listening, observing, responding and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t. Children have a way of giving you feedback – be it crying, having a tantrum, sulking and often just telling you it as it is – the painful truth with no frills! 

The relationship between a parent and a child is an ever evolving one as she grows and matures. From one that that is dependent to becoming independent as the child leaves home. Her upbringing and the core values instilled will have influenced who she is and lays the foundations for the way ahead.  

Using the same concept, leadership is not dis-similar to parenting. To lead you need followers and to ‘be a leader’ you need to ‘lead’ and learn from your followers. You can learn concepts, theories, frameworks, tips, strategies etc … from a leadership course but you still need to put them into practice – to do. And to ‘do’ requires listening, communicating, engaging, building relationships, supporting, developing, stretching….and to respond accordingly.

As a parent you quickly learn that what works for one child may not work for the other. Each child is different, motivated by different things, has his own personality, way of doing things and responding to situations and events and therefore you adapt how you deal with them. Followers / employees are no different. Being adaptable in how you handle different situations and people is essential for effective leadership. And the more interactions and engagement with different people and situations and learning and reflecting on what works well, the better and more agile you become at it.

Being at the top can be very lonely. It is much easier to talk about your parenting challenges, issues and mishaps with other parents in the playground, in work and social settings than is it to talk about your leadership challenges!

Engaging with a mentor is a good way of getting support, stretch and the use a sounding board. A coach can help you to explore issues, raise self awareness, give robust feedback, challenge assumptions and beliefs and help you to reflect and develop.

Leadership is a journey without a final stop. You don’t reach a point where you become the ‘best’ leader and stop there. There will always be situations, events and people who will test and challenge you and new learning to be gained. And on that  journey you have the power to inspire, shape, influence and develop others…. what a wonderful opportunity that is.

What have you learnt from parenting? What are you thoughts on comparing parenting and leadership? How are you influencing and developing others?

Love to hear from you.


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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7 Responses to What can you learn about leadership from parenting?

  1. PM Hut says:

    I always felt that parenting is done by trial and error – it’s like an Agile process that is repeated until perfection…

    I think that parenting is a form of leadership – whether you are a good parent or a bad parent is synonymous to being a good leader or a bad leader.

    Thanks for sharing…

    • verawoodhead says:

      Thank you for contributing. I wonder if ‘bad’ leaders are or become ‘bad’ parents? I often work with leaders who struggle with authenticity and being themselves- they have one persona for work and another for home.

  2. Jamie says:

    Beautiful post, Vera! I especially liked your example of how parenting each child differently is like leadership. Another one is the importance of seeing things from different perspectives. I can remember how my kids would try to convince me of somewhere they should go or something they should do. In those moments it helped when we could really hear each other’s reasoning…of course we didn’t always agree! Sounds like your daughter is quite adventurous. I bet that spirit resulted in some parenting challenges.

    • verawoodhead says:

      Thank you for kind words Jamie. Seeing other people’s perspective is so important. I think sometimes (and have been guilty of this) it’s easy for adults to ignore the perspectives of children because we think ‘we know what’s best – for them’
      Yes, she is and because she is the eldest I have had acquired much more learning from her!

  3. An interesting article & take on transferable learning /skills. Some years ago I wrote an article “Parental responsibilities in the firm” and I still feel strong about the parallels & lessons that can be transferred from one to the other.

    Thanks Zoe DJ

  4. Absolutely agree – a reference I have made consistently since having my children. I have become much more aware of the impact of my behaviour and actions on others having observed the ‘raw’ reactions of my children – and I now use this to good effect in all kinds of settings!

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