For better or for worse, you likely attribute a number of traits to one (or both!) of your parents. The way you look, the way you talk, and the way you think can all be traced back to your genetic makeup and formative experiences in childhood.
But there’s one area of your adult life that you probably never thought had any connection to your parents: your leadership style.
The reality is that our parents have more of an impact on the way we lead than you may think.
Understanding your parents
Parents are the first people children interact with, which is why they play such an important role in the development of an individual’s leadership skills. For many of my clients, if they’re facing a particular challenge when it comes to leadership, I can trace it back to a parenting style they experienced as a kid.
For example, if you had a parent who was very strong with difficult, fearful, negative consequences, you may be implementing that with your team, because you truly believe that’s the best way to motivate people—because hey, it worked with you.
Or sometimes I’ll ask: How did your mom deal with conflict? The response is often, “Oh my mom didn’t deal with conflict. She was too much of a people pleaser.” This is one of the most formative experiences for leaders. A number of female leaders in 2023 grew up with people-pleasing moms, and now, especially for women leaders, it doesn’t feel comfortable or natural for them to speak loudly or assertively when dealing with conflict. It can be really confusing when establishing your own personal leadership style.
Parenting also affects the way we respond to leaders. I have a client that’s admitted she suffers from a daddy-daughter complex, and that she can get emotionally triggered when her professional leaders exhibit behaviors that remind her of her childhood—particularly, the way she felt judged and micromanaged as a kid.
Some people will gravitate toward leaders that actually replicate different parental figures–they’re trying to get their approval, trying to win their love. It’s a very interesting exercise when reflecting and evaluating your own leadership style and the way you interact with your leaders.
And then once you realize how your parents have impacted your leadership style, if you’re a parent or plan to become a parent, you have an opportunity to change your parenting style to impact your children’s leadership skills.
Understanding your role as a parent
I always encourage parents to genuinely think about how their behavior will impact their children’s view of leadership. What kind of leadership do you want to display for your kids?
It can sometimes feel inconsequential to throw in the towel on certain lessons when you’re a parent or just say, “ah, let them learn the hard way,” but the truth is that there’s no leadership in that.
You may not think it makes a difference, but it does.
Children need guidance and direction. How do you build a system where they have a consequence and they understand what’s coming next? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t be loving and playful (those are amazing parenting qualities too!) but I’ve found one of the most important roles you play as a parent is as a leader for your kids.
This is especially true when that child first enters the workforce, and may not have a plethora of good bosses to emulate. It’s in these early years, employees often don’t know who to mirror and so the gut instinct is to mirror the very first leaders you ever had: your parents.
A PSA about working parents
And while we’re here, I’d like to just insert a PSA for corporations everywhere. If you have the opportunity to hire a parent that’s been out of the workforce for years raising a kid (or several!), please hire them. I’ve found these are often the best types of leaders.
You probably will never meet a better manager than a parent who’s been home with multiple kids. Talk about leaders that know how to organize groups, move people in the same direction, keep things on track, and give clear directions.
Parents often learn some of the most important leadership skills instinctively when they are trying to manage a bunch of children that are running in different directions. You really understand how to anticipate different personalities, how to modify your style, you start to edit the way you speak to certain people in order to have a specific impact or elicit a particular response.
All that to say, there’s a lot of power that happens when you’re parenting, and that often correlates into how you manage people.
So the next time you’re facing a challenging situation as a leader or a manager, I encourage you to go way back to the beginning and try to identify where some of those patterns may have come from.
What do you think? Can you see a connection between your parents’ leadership style and your own? Join me on LinkedIn and let’s continue the conversation.