Managing and Parenting… Are They Closely Linked?

June 2, 2009

Sunday night I was having dinner at a friend’s house and she made a comment that struck me as so dead-on its only problem is that it’s too dead-on – quickly acknowledged and rarely executed. But let me back up and give you the back story.

I arrived at dinner with the latest copy of the WorldatWork Journal (2nd Quarter) in which my article had been recently published (please download your complimentary copy by visiting www.sbrconsult.com/services).

I was excited to show the article to my friend and as she read the headline aloud – “Understanding Employee Attraction and Retention as Key Drivers in a Down Economy” – her husband settled into the couch to read it. She turned to me and said, “What is with these 40-something year olds I see at my daughter’s soccer games. They can’t manage and they can’t parent. Everyone is always right, they can’t deliver bad news or discipline – it is just so maddening.” [*My friend is in her early/mid-30s with two children of her own – 10 and 12 years old. Since she had her kids in her early 20s she is used to being one of the younger parents surrounded by older parents – usually 10 to 15 years older. She also happens to know a thing or two about managing – even managed me for a brief but happy time.]

“They can’t manage and they can’t parent” – I repeated it in my head over and over on the drive home. If all of your company managers (or at least those that need improving) suddenly became rock stars at retaining employees – how much stronger would your company be? Set aside the recession for a minute and think this through in its purest form (and note to managers – you can be a good boss in bad times). If you could erase all of your management issues, what would it be like to wake up to better employee communication, management that is completely honest and transparent, engaging employees through career pathing and mentoring, and being willing to provide consistent performance evaluations with good and bad news delivered fairly. Say goodbye to the rumor mill and cliques. Take a hike “boss’s favorite.” You are just not welcome here.

Can that working world actually exist? Does it exist in your company?

At the heart of my WorldatWork article is what I believe above all else – employees leave bosses, not companies. They may love the company, the brand, the mission, the industry – but if their manager stinks they won’t stick around. And engaging employees to a level that fosters loyalty and satisfaction can be tied to the bottom line – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Alex Edmans of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania just finished a study that concluded “from 1999 through 2008, the returns on portfolios based on these companies [Fortune magazine study “100 Best Companies to Work For”] have beaten the market by an average of four percentage points a year.” [‘Happy Workers, Higher Stock Prices’, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, June 2009.]

But let’s talk about what really stood out to me in her comment. It was the big shooting firework that went up in flashing lights and hit the ground with a thud heard ‘around-the-world.’ In case you don’t know what I’m referring to, it was the second part – “they can’t parent.” Remember, what we raise today is joining our workforce in 10 to 20 years and business leaders will be jumping through hoops and bending over backward to figure out the next generation. Even though as a generational consultant it does provide me with some job security it’s a daunting thought.

What do you think?



  1. Stacey,
    You couldn’t be more right on with this post. I see it all the time and hear it from those I encounter. There are 2 things that struck me in this post the most: retention issues (employees leaving because of management – and sometimes not direct) and the fact that of the next generation of workers this management era is raising. What are their expectations going to be? What are ours? I’ll be the first to call myself out as needing more help in this area of being more effective – I see the damage it does when I fail my team. I subscribe to the theory that not everyone on the team gets the trophy just for being there. You work hard, and you reap the rewards for doing as so. When you make mistakes,you address them, you learn from them (and get told HOW to learn from them, not just that it’s “ok” and move on) and you get back to work. Bottom line: it comes down to work ethic and teaching that.

  2. Stacey,
    Excellent post!

    I have said for years now, employee satisfaction is positively correlated to employee / manager relationships. The major difference is the propensity to manage vs lead. Leaders are more willing to give feedback, set expectations, and help employees be the “best of who they already are” (First Break All the Rules – Buckingham & Coffman). Managers, like Parents, often want employees to be and do as they do; to be come a “mini-me”. Thus, just like at home, neither kids or employees excel – they rebel; and conflict follows.

    Leaders, including Parent Leaders, recognize employee / kids strengths and weaknesses and set out to encourage and more fully develop strengths while coaching and supporting through developmental areas – simultaneously realizing each has talents and gifts different than our own. As a now famous (yet controversial)Reverend once said, “different is not deficient”!

  3. Bravo Stacey!

    People leave bosses not companies is my mantra too! And, I’ve left a few. But, I actually waited out one bad boss because I wanted and got his job!
    Of course, as a coach, I would not encourage any employee who was miserable over an extended period of time to be the martyr. The price is too high on your emotional and mental health. So all of this begs the question from both sides, what does the boss do to get better at managing and what does the employee do alone or with the team to confront and address the bad boss?

  4. Are there bad parents? Sure. Are there bad managers? Heck yes. Thankfully, both disciplines can be improved with the right training and mentoring — as you so well know.

    Having worked seven years at a very progressive company, I can say for certain there are some very good managers in their 40s and 50s. All of them were parents too, and even though I was not part of their family lives I could feel the bonds they had with their spouses and children simply by listening to their voices.

    These folks are the ones, to your points, that need the least amount of coaching. And it’s these people that do both parenting and managing best that likely fall into the flexible, understanding, and “willing to work to get it done” categories. They get the work/life balance, don’t over-manage, understand priorities and time management, yet help the company move forward by creating a positive environment.

    Managing a team is both science and an art, and it takes real work to improve yourself. Again, it is a skill that can be learned but so many assume these skills are inherited or ingrained. (We as a society sometimes value tools but not the people that use them, e.g.)

    Personally, management is the most rewarding part of my job. Seeing people succeed is very exciting for me, and I’m not just blowing smoke. And that counts especially when I’m parenting, too. And while I’m ok with this, helping any team can be a thankless task — and that could be part of the perceived generational gap for the “Greatest Generation” (wasn’t that what Tom called it?).

    All this said, I have noticed in my current environment my examples may not always true. I am seen often as different in my transparent methods and coaching styles, and I don’t mind that but it’s not understood. The only thing I care about is the team and its results, and we’re measurably different in a no. of ways.

    I can only hope that’s not coincidence.

  5. Great post. As a parent of four children, six through twelve, I have had ample opportunities to observe the parents who “can’t deliver bad news or discipline.” We are facing successive generations of people who don’t know how to respond to anything that isn’t perceived as affirming. This is going to be as much a manager problem as is its a managed problem.

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