How Your Leadership Style Can Inform Your Parenting
Being a working parent of a teenager doesn’t mean you no longer need to worry about balancing career and family; it just means you face new and different challenges. Raising teens is like leading other leaders in some ways — working with people who developmentally crave more autonomy and are seeking more empowerment and freedom. You can use your leader of leaders skills to communicate more effectively with your teen and help them develop the skills, judgment, and resilience they need to be fully independent.
Todd seemed especially distracted during our coaching meeting. I paused to ask him what was on his mind. He apologized and said that he couldn’t stop thinking about an exchange he had with his teenage son the previous evening where they both ended up frustrated at each other. Todd shared that as a working parent, he cherished the moments he and his son were free at the same time given both of their busy schedules. He couldn’t understand why when they were finally together, their interactions ended up tense or not going as he had hoped.
As a working parent of a teen myself, I could relate to Todd’s situation. The parenting needs of teenagers and the need to balance career and family don’t go away just because our kids become more independent — they just change.
The good news for Todd was that the more he described the recent exchange with his son, the more eerily familiar it sounded to the 360 feedback I had collected for him from his colleagues. Todd’s coaching program was focused on evolving his leadership and communications style to better reflect the “leader of leaders” he was becoming, as a manager of more senior folks in his organization.
Todd and I discussed how raising teens is like leading other leaders in some ways — working with people who developmentally crave more autonomy and are seeking more empowerment and freedom. His son shared that sometimes it felt like his dad wasn’t listening but rather was still directing, telling, and teaching him like when he was a younger boy. Since Todd’s colleagues had made similar observations in his 360, he wondered what leadership and communications tools he was developing as a leader of leaders that he could draw on and apply at home as well. Here are some of the tactics that worked for Todd that may help you apply strengths from work to interact with your teen in a more positive way.
Reset your role.
Recognize that your teen now has more life experience. Like a leader grooming a successor or protégé, think of yourself as a guide or coach who is setting up another person to spread their wings and be fully independent in your absence. Bring a development focus and meet your teen where they are now. This includes assessing their current life skills and acknowledging that they are growing up. Name the change or transition you are in as parent and child and determine together where they could take on more responsibilities with regard to chores or what set of decisions they can start to make more on their own.
Actively work to build their self-efficacy by offering more opportunities to engage in experiences that will help them develop their skills, judgment, and resilience. This could include things like independently navigating public transportation to get to school or taking on a part-time job.
In order to safely encourage and offer a greater range of decision-making and growth experiences, one of the most important tools for a leader of leaders is reexamining boundaries and assessing risk. Sometimes when leaders receive feedback to “empower more,” they swing the pendulum too far by being too hands off. Loosening the reins without some level of intentionality can result in inadvertently putting someone in a situation they are not yet equipped to handle or where the risks are too high. Your goal is to safely widen the guardrails while empowering and offering autonomy within new limits.
With our teens, resetting boundaries allows us to more safely offer rope while still providing clarity on curfews, home chores, and family values. Consider activities where you can allow your teen to take more initiative, such as searching for summer internships or engaging in trial and error (even if you don’t like the new haircut that results). The key is to allow more room for your teen to discover their own authentic way of getting something done effectively.
As you see your teen making more decisions for themselves, ask open-ended questions to better understand what is on their mind, uncover their assumptions, and learn how your kid reasons through things. Help your teen discover some of their own answers by asking great questions and engaging their own developing reflective capacity and introspection. By really understanding and hearing where they are, you can help them to brainstorm ideas and solutions or offer additional perspectives on their thinking.
When Todd’s son received his learner’s permit to drive, Todd noticed his own desire to micromanage what roads they took to get to a certain destination. He paused and remembered to serve as a guide and coach, and instead asked his son how he was deciding what route to take. This led to a great discussion. Todd’s son shared that he was a really visual person, so he used Google Maps in advance of a practice run to see what route he wanted to try. Todd shared that he considered factors like weather, time of day, and areas prone to traffic jams or visibility challenges when he set out somewhere. While Todd upheld all the rules and standards that the learning permit period required, he was mindful to give his son space to try out different routes and practice different forms of car maintenance, such as filling up the gas tank and checking the air pressure in the tires.
Todd started to see that his role as a leader at work and a father at home meant being clear about responsibilities, desired outcomes, and accountabilities; it was not about enforcing others to puppet him and do things in his exact own way.
Observe, listen, and seek to understand.
As Todd began using more of a coaching style with his teen and focused on becoming a more active listener, he slowed down to observe his son’s day, listen, and ask more questions. In doing so, he came to appreciate more fully the daily challenges and stresses of being a teen. Todd could better see just how much his son was juggling — from being in class with a mask on all day to participating in various activities and sports (which consumed much of his time after school) to then having to complete hours of homework after dinner.
By acknowledging and sharing what he observed, Todd’s son increasingly felt more seen and understood by his dad. It helped them to see why sometimes they both ended up with short fuses during late-evening conversations. Rather than fixing or solving, Todd realized that sometimes, his son just needed to vent about his stressful day and wanted an empathetic ear.
We can proactively demonstrate curiosity in everyday life to better understand what excites or motivates our teens. Even small things such as asking them to cue up their latest playlist in the car to hear what music moves them or to ask more about why history is currently their favorite class can provide a window into their world.
Schedule time versus “swooping in” on your teen.
As Todd listened more actively and showed more empathy and openness, his son was able to more courageously share with Todd that the thing that caused him the most frustration was when he felt Todd “swooped in.” Every time they were finally together, Todd would think of something he wanted to check in on — “What’s going on with college and SAT preparation?,” “Have you turned in that check the sports team needs?” and so on. Each time, his son felt “invaded,” which led to frustrating interactions.
Like leaders who “swoop in” on their teams and create disarray and fire drills, Todd was doing the same at home. Todd and his son agreed to grab some scheduled quality one-on-one time together each week so that they could consolidate the many questions or thoughts on important topics like summer internships, college preparation, and family logistics. They even created a shared Google doc where either could log a question or thought to avoid interrupting homework flow or precious downtime when his son was finally catching a break from the stress of the day.
Never would Todd have imagined at the start of our coaching work together that expanding his leader of leaders toolkit and building new coaching muscles would allow him to derive benefits well beyond work. He started to look for learnings from one part of his life to actively apply in another. For a busy working parent, that kind of reciprocal benefit brings increases in energy and momentum and creates a virtuous cycle in a holistic life. Todd’s program also sharpened his own sense of purpose as a leader and father — investing in the success of others’ growth, helping people gain skills and judgment they can carry with them, and feeling more assured that they’ll be able to move forward with confidence when it’s time for them to leave the nest.