I’ve spent the last ten years growing my business and my family. Life went from hustling to build a scrappy start-up and blossomed into three brands, hundreds of products, a global team, a wonderful husband and three amazing kids—and it’s a beautiful thing for which I am grateful.
But when my kids were younger, I felt an oppositional pull between my work self and my maternal self. My aha moment came when I realized that I am not two different selves but one whole person. I still struggle with priorities, time management, imposter syndrome and mom guilt. However, I have found some synergy between my approaches to leadership and parenting, and I found it in the place I least expected: parenting books.
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Parenting is a skill. Sure, you can wing it (and we all do that sometimes), but it’s also a skill you hone. You get the opportunity to practice every day, and if you’re interested there are a plethora of resources out there. In the books I’ve read, I found a few guidelines that have resonated with my style and have worked well in our family and our office.
Here are the parenting and leadership rules that I (try to) live by:
1. Have a few rules and be consistent
Rattling off too many rules confuses both your kids and you. When you focus on everything you prioritize nothing. Instead, focus on the rules that matter most to you and repeat them over and over. This helps your kids understand priorities and helps you let go of the little things (and there are a lot of them!). Ask yourself, what are the few things that really matter to my family? And let the rest go.
Figuring out what feels right and focusing on those things has relieved a lot of the pressure of trying to be something I’m not because I thought I had to be a certain kind of mom.
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As a leader, these are your core values. Pick the handful that truly describe who you are at your core (not who you want to be) and live them consistently. When you align with what your values are and lead by example, you don’t have to try so hard. And when you live and breathe values, your team feels it and they can follow your lead.
2. Be specific
Every parenting book will tell you not to give general warnings like “Be careful!” and instead to use, “Go slow and focus on every step while climbing those rocks,” because it is going to help your child know HOW to be careful. The same is true when praising—a generic “Good job!” doesn’t offer the child the same sense of reflection and pride as “I love how you used so many colors in your painting!”
At home, in order to get my kids on board with one of my priorities, a positive relationship with food, I’m very specific about what’s in the food and what it does for you. ‘Ice cream is creamy and sweet because it’s made with milk and sugar’ or, ‘carrots are orange and orange foods are good for your eyes.’ And alternatively, I can point out ‘This candy doesn’t come from the earth or an animal’. Instead of critiquing their choices or labeling something as generally good or bad, I give specific feedback and information from which they can make an observation and (hopefully) a better choice.
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In the workplace, telling people what you don’t want them to do (e.g. “Let’s not be late on that project next time”) or giving generic comments like “Think outside of the box” is not giving them input they can put into practice. Specificity allows them to identify the issue and change it. “Next time let’s add more detail to the timeline” or “How about we bring more people into a brainstorm so we can test our ideas and generate even more?” are clear instructions. If you can’t clearly explain what you want, then you probably aren’t clear yourself and need to figure that out before giving direction or feedback.
3. Listen and acknowledge
One of the best ways to help a child through a tantrum or emotional time is to listen and repeat back what they are telling you. Acknowledge their feelings, right or wrong. Statements such as “She took your toy, and you didn’t like that” or “I told you that you can’t have dessert tonight and you’re disappointed” go a long way.
With my family, just acknowledging the feeling has diffused about 70% of our outbursts. Seriously.
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As adults, we spend a lot of time thinking about our next action. We want to be ready to give the quick, smart response. Instead, when you listen, try to actively listen (this includes observing non-verbal communication). Then take the time to absorb, reflect and formulate your response. Articulating the words out loud and having someone receive them often helps people of all ages work through solutions on their own. And having your words received without judgment or feeling like you must defend them opens the door to better communication going forward.
4. Praise publicly, criticize privately
For children, this rule really depends on age but becomes important as your kids grow. Toddlers require correction and redirection for safety but pointing out your pre-teen’s errors in front of others isn’t going to earn you any points and can only erode trust—and trust is the most important aspect of any relationship. Pointing out the good (early and often) promotes more of that behavior. Praise and compliments, especially receiving this recognition in front of others, releases dopamine, and people that feel good make better choices.
In our home, we talk about filling each other’s buckets (making each other feel good) or taking from each other’s buckets.
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When you criticize publicly, in front of family, friends or colleagues, it triggers a defensive reaction making it harder for a person to accept their mistakes and learn from them. Take time later, away from the situation, to reflect on what happened, and discuss how to handle things better next time. They will learn from the situation and develop even more trust in your feedback.
This list could go on, but in honoring Rule One, I’ve decided to focus on and practice these four. If you’re interested in where I learned all of this or would like to know more about rules that are consistent with treating your children like whole people, check out works from Janet Lansbury and Dr. Becky.
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