If you have children it may come as no surprise that taking care of toddlers and managing junior vice presidents are similar undertakings. For others, especially those who haven't had the experience of raising youngsters, a new book by Ann Crittenden may be a revelation that will help them understand more about the skills that parents-especially some former stay-at-home moms and dads-bring to the workplace.
You may remember Crittenden from a previous book, The Price of Motherhood, in which she raised some hackles by advocating things such as a national preschool program and Social Security credits for stay-at-home moms. The new book, If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything, won't be as controversial, but it certainly should resonate with anybody who has struggled in managing people, whether those people are 2 years old or 52.
If you have been a parent, you know how accurate the title is. Raising kids is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences a person can have, but it's a challenge. It is filled with excitement, drama, humor, rewards, disappointments, tears, cheers and hugs. And no one comes away from parenting without a greater appreciation and depth of knowledge of what life is all about.
Crittenden talked with numerous parents who agree that much of the expertise gained from raising kids applies to the workplace. She also studied academic texts and interviewed many experts. And she recounted her own epiphany that came when she realized many of the books she read after the birth of her son and the management books she read in her former life as a business reporter offered very similar advice.
Among the parents she interviewed were successful people in politics, business and entertainment. From them and other sources, she came up with four categories of transferable home-to-work skills.
The first of these is the art of multitasking. A former top Justice Department official told Crittenden of her typical weekend: "A soccer game, a birthday party, a National Security Council meeting and grocery shopping." Parent-workers learn to juggle a wider range of events, each with its own challenges and each a necessity that demands successful action.
Then there are interpersonal skills. Anybody who has worked in management and been a parent knows about handling irrational and immature individuals of every age. Negotiating, listening, practicing patience, expressing empathy and respecting differences are among the many skills parents master. Perhaps the most important is learning how to turn the other cheek when being criticized and not taking vengeance on those you disagree with or disagree with you. It is the business of being a decent human being and a willingness to respect the feelings of others.
Crittenden's third category is about letting people develop their full potential. It's called "growing human capabilities." This is a tough one for many managers and high-powered executives. They are used to going full-speed ahead and handling things on their own. After all, that's how they got where they are: showing initiative and drive and coming up with results. An attorney and mother told Crittenden that before she had her baby she did all the work on big cases, leaving her colleagues to do the more menial tasks. She admitted, however, that after having a baby and in order to get home at a decent time she started delegating. She admitted as a result she was happier and so were her associates, because they could finally exhibit all of their skills. In one management book I read not too long ago, the author suggested hiring the right people and then "Get out of their way so they can do their jobs properly." This is one of the most difficult concepts to convey to executives. They often feel they have to micromanage and be involved in everything that happens in their area. They resist giving others the privilege of responsibility and hence their people don't grow and wind up leaving.
Finally, there are "habits of integrity": the loyalty, humility, good sportsmanship, courage and honesty that we were taught by our parents, coaches, teachers and other mentors. Think of virtue. It is a word seldom mentioned in boardrooms today and even in too few workplaces. But without virtue, without basic integrity, most individuals and most organizations become lost and frequently fail. Teaching kids these habits helps managers make sure their employees get some of the same lessons, though perhaps in a less direct manner. Leadership by example is often the best method in a workplace.
I wholeheartedly agree with Crittenden's basic premise. Anyone who raises kids develops skills that can transfer to the workplace. Cultivating multitasking, interpersonal skills, human capabilities and habits of integrity all make you a better manager.
Perhaps as important, in my view, is that raising children gives you a better perspective on what is really important in life. Being a well-rounded person and helping to contribute to the future are more valuable than being a workaholic with no outside life.
A good parent is a better leader, manager and citizen.
Kids can be teachers, too,
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