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Would You Let Your Child Behave That Way?

I’ve been pressing leaders to become more self aware and astute about their own behavior. One good litmus test is asking yourself: would I let my child do this? Are these the values and actions that I am teaching my child? What would I do or say if I observed my child misbehaving? Let’s break this down.

Losing your temper. Your team is not meeting your expectations on a major project and you call them in for a check-in. You are given a thorough explanation for the delays. You respond angrily: harsh tone, raised voice, no mercy. Your 8 year old’s baseball team just struck out and is trailing by 3 runs. Your child screams at the team and threatens to make life miserable for them if they don’t win the game.

Blaming others. Your boss calls you into her office and offers critical feedback on the report you created for the board. She is very specific about 4 points. You respond by blaming two of your colleagues for the misinformation even though you are in charge of the report. Your child brings home a report card with two C’s. You tell him that you are not pleased and he tells you that the teachers are terrible and not fair.

Ignoring the ideas of others. At your executive team meeting you ask for solutions to the quarterly shortfall. Everyone chips in with suggestions. Your response to each idea is “that won’t work” or “my idea is better”. You overhear your 3 children playing make believe together. Your oldest child responds to each new storyline that is recommended by the siblings with “that is stupid” and “my idea is better”.

Hogging the spotlight. Regardless of your expertise or involvement with several of the agenda items, you burst into the discussions. Rather than supporting your colleagues, you try to make a case for your uninformed ideas. You attend your child’s school play. She has rehearsed her part and does a nice job. She has also memorized everyone else’s part and whispers their lines throughout the entire performance.

Putting down other people. You telegraph that you believe you are the smartest one in the room by rolling your eyes, cutting people off, name calling and displaying general disrespect for others. While you are coaching your daughter’s soccer team you see her shove a player and then hear her tell the girl that she “couldn’t kick the ball if it landed at her feet!”

You get my point. Somewhere between 9 years old and 49 years old we have convinced ourselves that grown ups can behave in ways we wouldn’t allow in our children. Is that because it is coming out of the mouth of a six foot tall human? Or a corporate leader? Or it is necessary to get the business results? Or another adult can defend themselves against such affronts? Personally, I don’t see any justification.

Sometimes we can become more self aware by watching our children and then looking in the mirror. And sometimes our awareness shifts because of something our children say to us. For me, it was the latter.

I saw myself as flexible and not particularly rigid. I thought I cut people lots of slack. I believed I had to be repeatedly disappointed before I called someone to task for falling short of the goals. I had received a little bit of feedback at work that could have opened my eyes but I had dismissed it until my (then) 8 year old daughter hit me over the head. She had come home with a poor grade on a quiz and was worried that I would be furious with her. “Why would you be so concerned? I have always supported your best efforts and tried hard not to unnecessarily pressure you. I don’t expect you to be perfect.” She shot back immediately, “Oh yes you do!” I was stunned and asked her what made her think that. “Because you never walk out of the house with one hair out of place or without your make up. You always need to look perfect!”

It’s been many years since that day but it was a turning point for me. I came face to face with my own tendencies towards perfection and realized the subtle (and not so subtle) ways that I was imposing that on the people around me. I stopped worrying about how I looked at the market or dry cleaners and became acutely aware of the ways I was holding myself captive to impossible standards. Once I relaxed I was able to be more realistic about others at work.

One good path towards self awareness is through the children in our lives. They speak so much uncensored truth.

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