As a High Performance Coach, I have to recertify at least every second year in order to keep growing my skills and learning new things. This past March, I did my third recertification, and it was all about leadership coaching. Through the coursework and then as I applied it with my own clients, it struck me that as women, we’ve been holding extremely important leadership roles without giving ourselves much credit. In fact, I think being a parent is the most important leadership position I’ve ever had.
While I practice high performance coaching, most (though not all) of my clients probably wouldn’t immediately call themselves leaders - at least not when we first start working together! They’ve never led a corporate team, or been head of a large organization; yet they are the leaders in their families. In fact, I’d say they’re the most qualified leaders, because they have to be in charge 24/7.
The High Performance Institute defines leadership as “the process of leaders and collaborators coming together through an influence-relationship and seeking changes that reflect their mutual purposes.”
While that’s somewhat of a technical definition, it sums up modern family life pretty succinctly. The days of top-down authority are gone! A lot has changed in the world since my parents were children, including how businesses are run, how we parent, and even how we behave in relationships. Now, the most effective leadership is done with intention, which is why the most successful leaders have a leadership philosophy.
Through coaching, I’ve noticed that parents who have formulated a parenting philosophy, or those who have a philosophy guiding their partnerships, have less conflict. Of course, it doesn’t erase it completely, but they have less friction happening! I’m grateful that my husband and I have created some pretty similar parenting philosophies together. It’s made raising our children easier for us, (and probably for them!) when we have a guideline of beliefs and expectations for how we want things to go.
I believe that if we can identify how we lead at home and within our relationships, it gives us strength to lead (and take the lead) in other areas of our lives. With this in mind, I’m outlining the four major principles of leadership, as defined by the High Performance Academy, and apply them to my experiences and philosophy as a mom.
Most of us think of being a good leader as being a trait, and thus leadership is how a leader acts. I suppose this is partly true, but leadership is in fact a process that happens between a leader and their collaborators. And yes - it is a collaborative process, but more on that in a bit.
When you look at the process of leadership, you see the leader and collaborator come together, build a relationship, decide where they’re heading, and then they work together to create changes in the status quo. This is exactly like a family relationship!
In the beginning, you have the future parents (or parent), and they have a relationship in which they collaborate, build a life together, and (ideally) they work to grow personally and as a couple to make the relationship ever better. And then, kids come along.
Whether planned or not, the relationship between the couple changes. In the case of each parent, and in solo parents or even co-parents, the relationship with the self changes as well. Instead of only working on themselves and a shared relationship, a baby pops up and changes their life roles entirely. It becomes a lifelong process of being in a leadership role with your child; and one that changes regularly.
In the beginning, babies are completely reliant on you, of course. But with each passing age and stage, the relationship slowly shifts to a more collaborative one. What does my child need? What do they want? How can I best model that, or help them find success?
Of course, there will be times where no collaboration or cooperation happens… And we’ve all been there… When we try to impose our will on our children, it is a very temporary win rather than a long term one. Then there are the times we try to lead/parent in the way we have been last year, or even last week, and it isn’t working anymore. Parenting is a constantly changing process as we learn to best lead in each moment.
Influence-leadership is a key part of successful leadership, especially as a parent. We model what we want our kids/collaborators to learn, whether it’s behavior, problem solving, or how to trust themselves. I remember those hours I spent making faces with my newborn children, trying to elicit their first smiles!
I’ve talked before about how I used to be a slave to sweets, and visited the bakery regularly. I would even plan my runs around the best bakeries! But quickly after my daughter took an interest in eating, I knew I had to reevaluate my bakery habit. Kids watch everything! They learn how to LIVE from you, and she was watching me every moment. She saw me munch a cookie while making her organic vegetables for dinner, and of course she wanted one!
I had to become very intentional about what she saw me eat; and this of course made me rethink the entire habit in the first place. If I had to hide it, was it even good for me? Just like what we are eating, we influence our children with what we say and do, because we are their first life teachers. What are the lessons we want to lead with?
Keeping with the leadership is a process theme, of course things change as the kids get older. They begin to individuate, and want more input on what’s happening in their lives. Ask any parent of a three year old, and they’ll wholeheartedly agree! Our leadership and collaborative skills as parents become even more important, because we want our children to eventually become strong leaders and collaborators themselves.
And one day, far down the road, the leadership role may even shift; the child will become the leader! As we evolve as a society, and as they keep learning and doing new things that serve them better than what we taught them, they can then teach those things to us.
The third defining feature of leadership is realizing that both the leader and collaborator (or parent and child) are seeking changes. Both parties are growing together, and each seeks changes to make the family life run more smoothly. It could be around chores, school activities, how we spend our time together - but generally, everyone seeks better for how things are going. With the constantly changing dynamics of children as they get older, this is a great opportunity!
It’s important to have the intention to grow, but we must also actively pursue it. We all need to be active in making changes in our family routines, habits, and structure that work for everyone involved. People are invested in what they create. So by involving all parties in the changes, both parent and child “buy in” to the changes and the process.
Parenting teaches us to seek and initiate change when systems are no longer working.
I touched on this above already, but all parents know that imposing an iron will will not get you anywhere long-term with kids. That’s because any lasting change must reflect the purposes and desires of both sides. As a parent (the leader), we must be able to communicate our goals to our partners and children. Then, we must decide on the changes needed to get there together.
That bedtime negotiation that happens every six months or so is the perfect example. You want your child to get a good night’s sleep so they are rested the next day. They want to stay up two hours later because “Jen’s bedtime is ten o’clock!”. You could simply demand that your child goes to bed at eight, only to find that she is secretly calling her friends past bedtime or reading until eleven as a form of rebellion. A conversation about your concerns and hers will help you come to a much faster (and lasting) resolution.
Parenting allows us to see the whole picture, and create collaborative change.
I spend a bit of every day thinking about how I lead my family. It’s part of my 10 dreams for 10 years from now that I write down each morning. The top two are always “I am an extraordinary wife” and “I am an extraordinary mom.” A bit further down the list is that “I take annual vacations with my husband and children.”
I do this so that I always have my biggest goals in mind, and so the decisions that I make while leading my family come from those places. As for the vacation goal, I’d love more than anything to have an annual trip with my kids and their families! Logically, I know that it might not happen every year - but I want it to. So my relational goals with my kids and husband are very important in order to make that happen.
Leadership no longer means loudly bossing others around, and hasn’t for some time! It’s about creating a relationship and seeking the best for everyone involved, with one person in charge of the direction of the journey.
I’d love to hear in the comments how you’ve taken on a leadership role in your own relationships, family, or community. Do you have a guiding philosophy or long-term relational goals in mind when you interact with others? Let me know!
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