How Your Leadership Style Can Inform Your Parenting

Being a working parent of a teenager doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about balancing career and family anymore; it just means you face new and different challenges. Raising teenagers is like leading other leaders in some ways—working with people who developmentally crave more autonomy and seek more empowerment and freedom. You can use your leadership 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 particularly 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 night before where they both ended up at each other in frustration. 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 became strained or didn’t go as he had hoped.

As a working parent of a teenager myself, I could relate to Todd’s situation. The parenting needs of teenagers and the need to balance career and family aren’t going away just because our kids are becoming more independent—they’re just changing.

The good news for Todd was that the more he described the recent exchange with his son, the more terrible it sounded after the 360 ​​feedback I collected for him from his colleagues. Todd’s coaching program was focused on developing his leadership and communication style to better reflect the “leader of leaders” he was becoming as a manager of more senior people in his organization.

Todd and I discussed how raising teenagers is like leading other leaders in certain ways—working with people who developmentally crave more autonomy and seek more empowerment and freedom. His son shared that sometimes it felt like his father wasn’t listening, but that he was still directing, telling and teaching him like when he was a younger boy. As Todd’s colleagues made similar observations in his 360, he wondered what leadership and communication tools he was developing as a leader of leaders that he could also tap into and apply at home. Here are some of the tactics that worked for Todd that can help you apply strengths from work to interact with your teen in a more positive way.

Reset your roll.

Recognize that your teenager now has more life experience. Like a leader who grooms a successor or protégé, think of yourself as a guide or coach who sets up another person to spread their wings and be fully independent in your absence. Bring a developmental focus and meet your teen where they are now. This includes assessing their current life skills and recognizing that they are growing up. Name the change or transition you are in as a parent and child and determine together where they can take on more responsibilities in relation to chores or which set of decisions they can start making more on their own.

Actively work to build their self-efficacy by providing more opportunities to participate in experiences that will help them develop their skills, judgment and resilience. This can include things like independently navigating public transportation to get to school or taking on a part-time job.

Redefine borders.

Safely encouraging and offering a wider range of decision-making and growth experiences is one of the most important tools for a leader of leaders to re-examine boundaries and assess risk. Sometimes when leaders receive feedback to “empower more,” they swing the pendulum too far by being too hands off. Letting go of the reins without some degree of intentionality can lead to someone being inadvertently placed 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.

In our teenage years, resetting boundaries allows us to offer safer queues while still providing clarity about curfews, chores and family values. Consider activities where you can allow your teen to take more initiative, such as looking for summer internships or engaging in trial and error (even if you don’t like the new haircut that results). The key is to give your teen more room to discover their own authentic way of getting something done effectively.

As you see your teen making more decisions for himself, ask open-ended questions to better understand what’s on their mind, uncover their assumptions, and learn how your child reasons things through. Help your teen discover some of their own answers by asking good questions and engaging their own developing reflective capacity and introspection. By truly understanding and hearing where they are, you can help them 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, remembering to serve as a guide and coach, and instead asked his son how he decided which route to take. This led to a great deal of discussion. Todd’s son shared that he was a really visual person, so he used Google Maps before a training run to see which route he wanted to try. Todd shared that he considers factors such as weather, time of day, and areas prone to traffic jams or visibility challenges when setting off somewhere. While Todd maintained all the rules and standards required by the learner’s permit period, he was careful to give his son room to try different routes and practice different forms of car maintenance, such as filling the gas tank and air pressure the tires.

Todd began 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 wasn’t about forcing others to puppet him and do things exactly his own way.

Observe, listen and try to understand.

As Todd began using more of a coaching style with his teenager 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 more fully realized the daily challenges and stresses of being a teenager. Todd could better see how much his son was juggling – from wearing a mask all day in class to participating in various activities and sports (which took up much of his time after school) to then hours of homework after dinner had to complete.

By acknowledging and sharing what he observed, Todd’s son increasingly felt seen and understood by his father. It helped them see why they both sometimes ended up short fuses during late night conversations. Rather than fixing or solving, Todd realized that sometimes his son just needed to talk about his stressful day and wanted an empathetic ear.

We can proactively show curiosity in everyday life to better understand what excites or motivates our teenagers. Even small things, like asking them to put on their latest playlist in the car to hear what music moves them or asking more about why history is their favorite class right now, can provide a window into their world.

Schedule time versus “crashing” 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 “falling 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 prep?”, “Did you turn in that check the sports team needs?” and so on. Each time his son felt “taken in”, leading to frustrating interactions.

Like leaders who “pull in” their teams and create chaos and fire drills, Todd did the same at home. Todd and his son agreed to schedule some quality one-on-one time each week so they could consolidate the many questions or thoughts on important topics such as summer internships, college prep, and family logistics. They even created a shared Google Doc where either could jot down a question or thought to avoid interrupting homework flow or precious downtime when his son finally got a break from the stress of the day.

Todd never would have thought at the beginning of our coaching work together that expanding his leadership toolkit and building new coaching muscles would allow him to reap benefits far beyond work. He began looking for lessons 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 that they can carry with them, and feeling more assured that they will be able to move forward. confidence when it is time for them to leave the nest.

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