5 Signs That You've Fallen Into The Trap Of Parent-Child Leadership
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Today’s managers talk a lot about wanting employees to be more accountable and to act on their own initiative. And yet, those same managers turn around and say to employees: “I have to give you assignments; I have to give you feedback; I have to hold you accountable.” This leaves employees, much like children, left to take feedback, to take assignments and to passively wait to be held accountable.
Today’s top-performing organizations are leaving this style of Parent-Child leadership behind and replacing it with a new model of leadership that treats employees like adults who have unlimited potential and who deserve the opportunity to take control of their own futures. Establishing an Adult-to-Adult dynamic encourages employees to become self-leading and self-sufficient and results in a more motivated, fulfilled and energized workforce. Employees are more aligned with their organization’s vision and more committed to helping the organization achieve that vision.
And employees who work within the Adult-to-Adult dynamic are more open and excited for change. They don’t fear the unknown, they’re not afraid to ask questions, and because of that, they’re more willing to trust that their leaders know what they’re doing. One simple test of this is for you and your employees to take the quiz “How Do You Personally Feel About Change?” If your folks are uncomfortable with change, it’s often a good sign that it’s time to foster a more Adult-to-Adult relationship.
So, how can we bring an end to Parent-Child leadership? Breaking out of the following five big Parent-Child Leadership Traps is a great place to start.
Parent-Child Leadership Trap #1: When Employees Ask Me “Why?” They’re Undermining My Authority
“Why” isn’t a dirty word. Sometimes employees want to know “why” because they believe there’s learning value in everything they do, or that every job has a reason, meaning, or significance. Maybe they want to see the “big picture” and how their contribution fits in with everything around them. These are awesome qualities for an employee to have. So the next time you hear the question “why?” avoid becoming defensive and respond constructively by asking, “What specifically would you like to know?”
Parent-Child Leadership Trap #2: Only The Boss Can Rate Performance
Employees lose the ability to self-assess (and so self-correct) when managers fall into the parent trap of thinking that only they can truly rate their employees’ performance. This situation typically exists for two reasons. First, managers often incorrectly believe that most employees will lie if allowed to rate themselves. And second, if employees actually had all the tools to objectively and honestly evaluate their own performance, many managers fear they’ll lose their power (and thus the reason for their professional existence). We can recognize all of this as mere rationalization, but it’s still a pervasive Parent-Child trap. Instead, recognize employees as adults capable of evaluating their own performance and give them the tools that allow them to determine their own next steps to improvement.
Parent-Child Leadership Trap #3: Keeping Information on a Need to Know Basis
Employees generally get most of their information about the business from their managers. Sadly, too many managers like keeping employees dependent on them in this way. Imagine how much more effective it would be if employees were encouraged to scoop up all the morsels of competitive and industry intelligence they could find without waiting for their leader. What an advantage to have employees who know the industry trends as soon as (or even sooner than) you do. A good (and fun) place to start is holding article-reading contests. Challenge employees to bring in (and be able to summarize to the team) an industry relevant article. This simple exercise encourages employees to look outside the boss for information about what’s going on in the outside world, fosters self-sufficiency and brings fresh perspectives and greater ownership to work issues.
Parent-Child Leadership Trap #4: Saying “Everything Will Be OK”
At times, Parent-Child leadership doesn’t feel like critical parenting; it actually feels like caring parenting. Sometimes leaders withhold bad news from employees, or offer unsupportable reassurance, with statements such as “Don’t worry about the layoffs at our competitors, we’re gonna be fine,” or “Don’t fret about our drop in profit, it’ll turn around.” When we deny reality, or utter untruths to soothe, we’re still controlling and stunting our employees. In other words, we’re parenting. Instead, encourage adult-level resilience so employees are ready to respond if things don’t work out perfectly.
Parent-Child Leadership Trap #5: I’ll Do It Myself
Most managers got promoted because of their technical success (and not their leadership skills). It’s why the boss is often more competent than the employee at the employee’s job. And this leads a lot of managers into the trap of thinking that their employees can’t be as good (or better) than they are. Or, when employees make a mistake, the leader jumps to the interpretation that it’s because “they’ll never be as good as I am.” So they sit them down and do the jobs for them. Treat employees like adults by giving them the chance to perform even if you can do it better. And if if they make mistakes, allow them some space to grow and develop through the trial and error of self-correction.
Theoretically, this is all easy stuff to do. So, why don’t more managers do it? Leaving behind the parent role requires letting employees think independently and be more self-sufficient. I’ve heard some managers refer to this as feeling “terrifying.” There’s no easy answer to this other than push through it. At first it might be unsettling (and even feel terrifying) to have an employee say, “Hey, Boss, did you see this article that may provide an answer to our biggest challenge?” (especially if you haven’t already seen that article). But remember, information is power. Giving your people the freedom to be more self-sufficient isn’t letting go of your power or control; it’s making the organization as a whole significantly more successful.