Best of MFP: Parenting and Management: How similar are they?
Last week, I started a Q&A session on LinkedIn that asked:
“Does the way in which a person cares for their children have any bearing on how they care for their employees? How are management and parenting styles the same, or different? Does being good at one make you better at the other?”
The intent was not to suggest that managers are the parents and that their employees are children in need of management’s wisdom and guidance. Rather, it was intended to spawn a conversation over the similarities between management styles, and parenting styles. The responses ranged from “Not at all similar” to “Absolutely the same” and just about every point in between. In the responses, I noticed a few recurring themes, and I attempted to develop a model for understanding how parenting and managing sometimes overlap.
For nearly everyone, the similarities are too great to ignore. It should be noted, however, that comparing managing to parenting may be something of a first order effect – the reasons parents interact with children and the reasons managers interact with employees are completely different. The purposes for which people are drawn into either situation are highly dissimilar; nonetheless, the nature of human interaction does show certain common elements in both situations.
From the responses, I found there were some recurring themes:
- Duration: Temporary to Permanent
- Leadership: Guide / Nurture vs. Command / Control
- Results: Tangible vs. Intangible
If each these themes is represented as a continuum on a separate axis, we can draw a 3D model depicting the relationship between parenting and management.
Parenting is highly permanent, leadership is usually directed towards guiding & nurturing, and it is much more concerned with the intangible aspects of its relationships. Stress is placed upon parents when they must utilize Command & Control techniques in order to achieve the goals they desire.
Management is usually temporary, leadership is much more likely to be based on command & control, and is more concerned with tangible outcomes. Stress tends to be placed upon managers when they must take time to consider the intangible outcomes of their actions.
The two do overlap, however, to some degree. Exactly how much has to do with the degree to which any individual can be rated along each of the three axes – essentially, it’s a comparison of his/her parenting style and management style. That space where they overlap, however, is what I call “The Caretaker Cube.”
Conceptually, a Caretaker is always concerned with nurturing & guiding. They overstep their bounds a bit when they decide to give orders, however, they will do so in a limited fashion when required. Nonetheless, that’s not their primary goal. As the name states, they are more concerned with taking care of their charges, and not “whipping them into shape.”
The Caretaker’s responsibilities also cause them to not be overly concerned with long term relationships – their role is to make sure things stay “Okay” for some short period of time. They aren’t necessarily looking to improve things for the long run, they simply need to make sure nothing breaks while they’re in charge.
A Caretaker also worries about the tangible results of their efforts, with limited concern for the intangibles. Caretakers do a specific job and provide a specific deliverable for some amount of compensation. Parents look for their children to get good grades, win trophies for participation in extracurriculars, and land a good job as an adult. For managers, tangible results are making sure the report gets written, the widget gets shipped, and the billable hours get done.
For both parents and managers, increasing the size of the Caretaker Cube may rely upon establishing permanent relationships based on intangibles such as altruism, unconditional respect, and mutual support. It is entirely possible, however, for parenting and managing styles to never overlap and, indeed, some of the responses indicated a strong preference for this arrangement. In these cases the focus and style of the person when acting as a parent is completely different from when acting as management, and one has no bearing upon the other.
For most of us, however, the lines are probably not so clearly drawn, and we can derive lessons from either experience that serve to make the other one better.