As a society we have the best labels for parents. Tiger moms, helicopter dads and lawn mower parents are just some of the garden varieties outs there. But, when it comes to describing managers we only have good and bad. As a mom to a 3-year old and a manager for over 10 years, I belief our workplace can benefit greatly if we start labeling managers just like we label parents.
As I discovered over the last few years parenting has many parallels to managing. There are many jobs a manager performs, two are particularly important:
- Allocating resources
- Developing talents
Very much like parenting.
Meet the Parents
As parents there are many ways we develop talents, also more popularly known as raising our children. Let me introduce you to a few parenting approaches:
1. The Tiger Mom
When her child is struggling to reach some predetermined goals, such as getting an A on their math test, the Tiger Mom yells “You need to work harder to make me proud!”.
Their parenting advise is that you need to spend more time and effort on the struggle.
2. The Helicopter Dad
He hovers around his child to observe any signs of a struggle. As soon as he spots it, he comes in and air lifts the child away.
3.The Lawn Mower Mom
She charges ahead of her child removing any obstacle that is up ahead. For the same math test, she will contact the teacher ahead of time to make sure her child will perform will on it.
Then there are the more evolved forms of parenting approaches:
4. The Stealth Fighter Dads
He observes his child secretly. He does not show up to intervene most of the time. But when selective topics are triggered or when a certain threshold is met he reveals himself.
In our math test example, the stealth fighter dad won’t make any fuzz about his child not getting an A. However, overtime if he observes the child either struggling with the same math concepts or math in general he will intervene.
5. The Dolphin Moms
She quite literally parents like how a dolphin would. She guides the child and uses lots of role-modelling. In natural, dolphin moms will physically demonstrate to her calve how to use corals and sea sponges on the sea floor to clean off dead skins and how to hunt down a school of fish.
These archetypes and labels are useful because they offer a description of what we are doing rather than just being good or bad parents. They are part of the inputs to our desired outputs, i.e. how our children turns out. If we don’t like the output, it’s useful to know the inputs so we can adjust it. In parenting this means improving our parenting skills and methods, such as the one I received very recently
The Usefulness of Very Specific Feedback
My daughter has been expressing interests in learning the days of the week since last November.
Daughter: What is today?
Her teacher and I: it’s Wednesday
Daughter: what is after?
Her teacher and I: Thursday
She will then continue until we loop all of the days a few times.
5 months later, she understands the days of the week loops, there is a beginning and an end to the week, but there has been very little progress on naming the days of the week. This week, I started trouble shooting and arrived at a conclusion that this must be related to her low working memory. I know this is too early to say, but it does run in the family.
I called my dad. He was a successful career manager and shared this particular neurological trait. The feedback I received were:
- My instructional methods was not effective
- I need to break down the logic and the information into smaller pieces since this will work better with how my daughter process information
If you are as confused as I’m, join me on the rest of the call.
Me: Go slower? Like repeat Monday? They are just names…
Dad: No. Like Sunday, “sun” and “day”. Smaller, not slower. (If my dad were a teenage girl there would be massive eye-roll followed by “she’s not stupid you know”)
Then our parenting lesson ended because he needed to help my mom setup her new iPhone…
Stars, Old English, and Random Ordering
I was left with what I thought was a pretty funny idea “sun” and “day”. Hahaha, my 3 year old would love that story. But, after so very very deep dive and piecing together the puzzles turned out my dad was right…
Sunday, the first day of the week, was indeed named after the sun. Monday, the second day of the week was named after the moon hence “mon” and “day”. Why you ask, if you so happened to read up on early human history a fact is that that early humans can only observe objects in the sky with their naked eyes. The sun is the largest object in the sky, followed by the moon. A logic and a pattern is starting to appear.
I won’t bore you with the details, but long story short, the next largest objects in the sky are the planets. The planets are ordered in observable sizes from the Earth in their old names (not in the solar system map, I went down that route) until we get to Saturn, the name sake for Saturday – “satur” + “day” …. duh. (and no, there is no article that pops up on the internet that explains this)
This is what our new days of the week lesson looked like:
Me: (points to the sun) this is the largest object in the sky “sun” “day”
Daughter: (big smile)
Me: (points to the rising moon) that’s the second largest object in the sky “mon” “day”
Then over the next few days my daughter not only started saying the name of the days of the week she also got introduced to the various planets. The parenting feedback I received was indeed correct. I do need to improve my instructional skills and think more about how I can break down the information in a more logical way.
Imagine if we had this level of feedback for managers.
Management Skill Feedback
If managers received specific feedback about their management skills, then we would have management skill review meetings. They would look like this:
A More Experienced Manager (AMEM): Nancy, you are being a Tiger Manager.
Me: What’s wrong with that? They just need to toughen it out to grow.
AMEM: No. It’s increasing our HR costs too much. Your turnover rate is too high. You can’t just throw your team into hardships and expect them to grow.
Me: What should I do?
AMEM: Nancy, you are being a Lawn Mower Manager.
Me: But, I can’t help it! The new hires just don’t know enough.
AMEM: No, you need to train people and delegate. Your team performance is too low.
You can see how much more productive this would be rather than just saying they manager is good or bad. Considering most people leave their jobs because of a bad manager, targeted and more specific feedback about management skills can really benefit any workplace.
The next time you are in a situation to review a manager, don’t just say they are good or bad. Try to be more descriptive and you will make the workplace better for everyone.
Special thanks for Julia for the very interesting conversation that inspired this article.