Do leaders have this powerful parental instinct?
If I were to guess what you would anticipate reading based on the title of this article, I would guess you would think you were going to read an article about discipline – surely a great and necessary parental instinct. But that is not what I have in mind. How about accountability you say? Another highly valued parental instinct, but again not what I have in mind. In fact, what I have in mind is less obvious and maybe more important. Yes, discipline and accountability are good and those instincts alone can make a good leader or parent, but to be the best leader or best parent, one must properly inculcate one more vital instinct.
How do I know what I’m about to say is true? Fair question; and here is my answer: for over two decades I have been listening to professionals tell their stories – over one thousand stories strong. Out of this abundance has come many themes, but the theme I wish to discuss today has been revealed (through some wonderful stories) as an indelible truth to me.
Now that I have sufficiently teased you, allow me to cut to the chase. The instinct to which I refer is the instinct to see more in a person than they see in themselves. Leaders are tempted to see the limitations of those they lead; whereas, parents easily (and hopefully lovingly) see beyond the limitations and focus more on the possibilities.
Parents have an instinctual yearning for their children to be more, to be better. If the child is a “C” student, parents believe she/he can be a “B” student. If the child is on the “B” team, parents believe she/he can make the “A” team. Never, as a parent, should you depress this instinct – for so many reasons it is a powerful wind in the sail of a child.
The one caution here is not to have this instinct become self-serving, or the opposite of loving. I am sure you all know a parent who abusively pushes their child, manipulates situations for their child and undermines others for the benefit of their child. This instinct does not work if it is about you as the parent. Likewise, it will not work if it is about you as the leader.
You will always, in every situation, have a choice. In the situation I present to you today, you can choose to see your subordinates with all of their limitations and use some managerial expectation to generate your desired outcome. Or, you can choose to tap into the vital parental instinct that sees in your subordinates all that is possible, and thus generates the powerful wind in the sail that creates outcomes far beyond simple expectations. The choice you make will make all the difference in the world in how you are viewed by those you lead.
Now that you see what is possible in your subordinates, how do you “tease out”exponentially higher performance? How do you bring what is possible in life? This is a vitally important topic, but for now, I will leave it for you to ponder.