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5 Differences between Leaders and Parents

I know a leader who mothers and smothers the people she works with. She thinks she's helping them, but she's not. In actuality, she's compromising their effectiveness.

She's popular with some employees because she "takes care" of them. The don't make any decisions without consulting her first. They mistrust others who give them less "support" and those who challenge them to make their own decisions. They rely on her to champion their causes and carry forward their complaints.

Other employees avoid her because they feel she can be too controlling. Some have experienced backlash when they did not return her "care" with expected loyalty. Having accepted favors from her, they later learned they were expected to back her up and defer to her preferences. They found themselves ostracized when they did not comply.

The ones she "protects" give up more than they realize. Over time, they lose their own voice. They no longer seem to have their own opinions, and they wouldn't express them if they did. They become increasingly dependent on her and lose others' respect when they won't make their own decisions. They don't grow professionally.

This leader describes her style as motherly. She believes that her style balances out the business-like tone of her department, staffed mostly by men who think it's important for people to experiment, fail, learn and try again. As they are aiming for enablement, her balancing act serves as disablement of people.

In any workplace, there are necessary differences in how we lead people vs. how we would parent people. This leader would contribute to the creation of a stronger team if she would recognize these five differences:

1. Leaders help people discover and use their own voice. Parents speak up for their young children when they need an advocate. Leaders intercede as infrequently as possible, preferring to coach from the sidelines as employees speak up for themselves and what they believe.

2. Leaders encourage autonomy. Parents nurture their children for ever-increasing independence. Leaders in the workplace treat employees as autonomous, capable, independent adults. This is the starting point, not an eventual goal. Neither parents nor leaders (in healthy settings) work to create dependence.

3. Leaders don't keep people "under their wing." While mentoring or onboarding employees, there may be a period of time when a leader guides an employee. There is a limit, though, to this protection. People deserve the right to fly free and ought to be enabled to do so.

4. Leaders don't coddle people. Parents may be indulgent and over-protective at times. Leaders shouldn't be. People need to understand the consequences of their actions and should have the opportunity to learn from mistakes made. Making excuses and teaching others to externalize blame isn't helpful to them.

5. Leaders don't expect blind loyalty. Granting favors and extending protection to people is one thing. Doing it with the expectation that they owe something in return is a power play. It's destructive and demeaning. Leaders shouldn't conduct shake downs. Parents may be entitled to blind loyalty, but leaders aren't. Leaders earn it by building people up, not by holding them back.

Leadership isn't a power trip. Leaders need capable people who are continually growing, not sycophants who have been manipulated to be servile. To be a leader, you have to love 'em or you'll lose 'em. Loving them doesn't mean parenting them... It means truly leading them with a heart for doing right by them.

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