What Parenting and Leadership Have in Common

FROM THE JANUARY 2018 ISSUE

Contact Center Leadership Traits
Illustration by Nick Barrett
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I am fortunate to have raised two boys who are growing up to be fine young men. Some of the lessons I learned in raising them have carried over to my professional career as well. I may not be world-class at fatherhood or leadership, but I continue to learn new things about both roles every day. I’ve come to see that the two have a lot in common. Today, I would like to share lessons I learned (and taught) as a parent that have translated well to my professional career.

Always Be Humble and Kind

I’ll start off this section with the chorus from Tim McGraw’s song, “Humble and Kind.” The message of the lyrics is about respecting other people at every stage of the journey.

Hold the door say please say thank you
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

 

Saying “please” and “thank you” seem like unimportant things to write a song about, but when you become a parent you realize that these are cornerstones of raising a child because they represent respect for others. Whether we’re just starting out or in leadership positions, we never want to forget where we come from.

Celebrating success always has a flip side. In sports and life, not every game is going to be a victory. Often, what you learn from adversity defines your future decision-making. The ability to lose gracefully and win humbly are important not only at home, but in the workplace. Let yourself feel the pride, but always stay humble and kind.

Learn from Failures

My sons were never on the elite of elite youth sports teams. But they did play on competitive teams that challenged those elite teams, often successfully. Regardless of the outcome, we always asked the same question afterward: Would we have done anything differently?

The lesson we were teaching (and learning) is that there is always going to be someone smarter, funnier, more talented than you are. It is life. Take the time to recognize what talents you bring to the table. Analyze your performance. How could you have capitalized on your strengths and worked cooperatively to do better?

In business, it can be helpful to recognize your individual or organizational niche. Not every retailer is going to be an Amazon or a Walmart, for example. In a scene from the movie Moneyball, Billy Beane tells his recruiting and player development staff, “If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.” Don’t try to be someone you are not. Whether you win or lose, do it graciously, and always take time to understand why it happened.

Recognize Others

This is probably one of the most important lessons I learned raising my kids. I was coaching a youth baseball game and had become frustrated about the position one of my sons was playing. Another coach pulled me aside to remind me, “It’s not always about your son.” There were other kids on the team who were also there to contribute. It wasn’t easy to hear, but I needed to hear it. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for our kids is to not be the ones to coach them. LaVar Ball is a great example of this.

Understanding that the team or organization is not about your personality can be the start of being a successful leader. Taking the time to recognize people privately as well as publicly nurtures an environment of employee engagement. According to a Business News Daily article, research shows that engaged employees have greater:

  1. Motivation to contribute
  2. Support of company values
  3. Understanding of how teams contribute to organizational success
  4. Likelihood to recommend the organization
  5. Pride in the organization
  6. Willingness to go above and beyond
  7. Desire to be working at the same organization in one year

It’s not all about you, or your kid. Leaders who forget (or never learn) this lesson may find themselves dealing with chronic turnaround and attrition, which can eventually ruin a business.

Never Stop Learning

As my sons were growing up, they often asked questions—and a lot of them—as most kids do. The “Why” game was a frequent one. Rather than just give them the answers, I would ask them to learn about it themselves, and then let me know. This sometimes backfired on me as they got older. When I asked them a question about a report they were working on, they would respond that I needed to research it and get back with them. What the “Why” game created, though, was an environment where there were no right nor wrong answers, but rather discussions. Our discussions these days have evolved to include politics and social issues. By seeking out their own answers, they developed curiosity and critical-thinking skills that have served them well.

Change occurs in business these days at the speed of thought. As leaders, we need to reinforce the concept that our organizations must always be learning organizations. We need to ask challenging questions and answer honestly, even if it means changing how we do business. Are typical contact center metrics the best indicators of performance, or should we be focused on CSAT/NPS primarily? What does employee engagement look like and how is that impacting customer retention? What can we do better to reduce absenteeism or attrition? Why do I read articles in industry trade magazines rather than focusing on my fantasy sports teams?

One of my favorite baseball movies of all time is Bull Durham. “Baseball is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. It’s that simple.” I love that quote, but nothing’s that simple anymore. Baseball has become a very scientific sport through sabermetrics and other analytical tools.

Contact centers used to be simple. You dial the phone. You answer the phone. You document the call. Nowadays, with multichannel and omnichannel contact centers, the job is much more scientific. Even recruitment of agents is more complicated. It’s no longer just butts in chairs, but do we have the right butt, in the right chair, to handle the right type of call?

Technology pushes us to be continuously learning and continuously improving people, leaders and organizations. To resist is futile, and probably detrimental.

Ask Permission About Giving Feedback

If parenting were easy, there would be one instruction book, universally accepted and translated into every language. Instead, we have thousands of books written about vastly different approaches to parenting. Leadership is no different. However, some techniques rise to the top and gain wide acceptance. In a performance development class, I learned an approach that has worked equally well for both my kids and my employees.

In most cases, when you tell kids to do something, they either tell you no, or they stall. You inevitably follow up with, “Didn’t I tell you…?” and end up with punishment, or at least threats of punishment. This same dynamic happens in the workplace. While we can’t terminate our kids for poor performance, we can and do terminate employees for these reasons.

Instead of “telling,” I began to apply a different approach. When an employee didn’t follow my instructions, I asked permission to provide feedback. No, “Didn’t I tell you…?” No nagging or threatening. Just a simple request.

This is a surprisingly effective approach that takes conflict out of the situation. The receiver of feedback is then in control of whether now or later is the best time to be provided feedback. Once a time is agreed on, the manager can preface the meeting with a summary of the situation. Questions and clarifications happen within the discussion. Information is exchanged and both parties feel as though they have expressed themselves.

We’ve already established that leadership is not all about you. It’s also not about necessarily about you being right. Sometimes, it’s about understanding the reasons behind the choices people make, and taking time to learn what they are trying to achieve. Kids or adults, frontline agents or leaders, we all make choices daily. Sometimes those choices are not helpful to a process or an outcome. Sometimes they’re the best choice among bad options. Sometimes they’re a brilliant solution to a problem we didn’t even know was there. As a parent, I’ve seen all three scenarios play out—sometimes in the same hour! The most important thing I did in every case was listen.

In Conclusion

I have done my best to be an effective parent, and an effective leader of people over my lifetime. I’m sure I have failed many times and will continue to take risks and make mistakes. What I have learned is that parenting and leadership are more alike than different, and that you never stop learning how to be more effective at both. Mistakes will be made. Successes will be realized. Dreams will come to you. Life will happen. In the meantime, how we treat each other can always improve.

A friend of mine who is in Alcoholics Anonymous often mentions the No. 1 lesson that AA teaches. The lesson is that the journey to recovery is a process. Each step is progress, not perfection. As I embark into the new year, I may regret my mistakes, but I focus on the successes and opportunities ahead of me. I intend to make 2018 a year of personal and professional progress, not perfection. I hope we all get the chance to learn and to teach many new lessons in 2018.

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