Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Parent"ship--Are Good Parents Considered Good Leaders?

I was talking to my mother just the other day, as I was debating topics to touch upon for the blog. To jumpstart my thought process, she asked me who I considered to be the greatest “leader.” My response: “You.” The more I dwelled upon it, the more I began to postulate about the role leadership plays in parenthood…or “parent”ship perhaps.

If you consider yourself to have grown up in what you have deemed under the guidance of great “parent”ship, reflect for a moment on what it IS about your parental figures that made them so successful in turning you as young, intelligent, achievers out into this challenging world. Did they motivate, inspire, and seek to develop you as a person? Did they lead by example? Maybe it was just their understanding and compassion that you foundation admirable?

Browsing through many of the theorists observed during class time, parenting to me exhibits several prime examples of those characteristics we as young academics have deemed “leader” worthy. Heifitz claims that leadership is value-laden that is an activity focusing on mobilizing, influencing, adaptive work, with the end-goal as the target. Could this not too be said of parents, who want their children to be independent, successful individuals? Parenting is a “relationship” just as leadership is a relationship, both between leaders and followers (MacGregor).
And isn’t communication key between parent and child with regards to expectations (Hackman and Johnson). Even obedience to authority (Milgram) is demonstrated in a “parent”ship. Don’t we ask of our children to learn to obey and respect authorities? I also would argue that the majority of parents exercise “socialized leaderhip” (Sashken), working as a leader for great goods, goals, and needs rather than their own selfish needs. What about good or poor parenting? Could we then compare this to good and bad leadership? When I think of bad parenting, I think of either emotionally overbearing parenting, or apathetic, turn-the-other-cheek parenting. I might also say the same as ineffective leaders, whose subordinates feel that their managers (key word: “managers” as opposed to leaders) either do not care about their performance, or hover to the point of inability to perform.

The role of “power” in parenting, I also see as significant. We touched on in class the hierarchy of powers during our class discussion. I have to say, I think that for parenting, the influence of the power varies over the development of the child. From young on, our parents have both a legitimate power, but also a coercive and rewards power. Maybe as a child you were rewarded when you said “please” and “thank you,” through rewarding power. But if you ever pushed back, refusing to finish your green peas, there was threatening of no desert or receiving an early bedtime. Over time though, I would ague that the power shifts from reward and coercive power, to referent and expert power. Through high-school and college, we begin to maybe not see our parents are vessels of punishment and reward, but instead as individuals once in our shoes, whom we have now come to respect.

If we are to accept that “parent”ship is a type of leading responsibility, I then postulate if leadership can be taught in such a respect. We have wondered whether leadership can or cannot be taught. I then ask, can parenting be taught or is it too situationally and innately influenced, in much the same way that we question whether leadership can be taught? Similarly, are there certain traits that might make some parents better than others, or do all parents come across the opportunity to be shaped and developed by the environment of the child? Personally, I believe that “value” can be taught. But, good parenting, or “parentship” I think is much like we have discussed in class: I think it can be improved and expanded upon, but that there are many other factors that feed into successful leaders.

“Parent”ship takes the holistic meaning of a “full-time” job. There is no “vacation” time. There is no “quitting,” “relocating,” or “firing.” It’s a commitment. I believe that parents are indeed a type of great leader. While yes, they may be able to hire and fire, and true, may have an additional emotional component to the job, I believe good parents can indeed be seen as good leaders. HOWEVER, I would argue against one who says that good leaders exhibit characteristics that make good parents.


  1. What I found so striking about this entry is the last part, about how one can never truly abandon their "parent"ship. There are no perfect parents out there and regardless of what you do as a parent, there is no way to lose your title. So this brings me to the power of a parent, and that leadership in this situation is born (in more than one sense).

    You become a parent when your child is born, but how you parent could be an innate skill or you could have learned it from your parent. I definitely agree that parents can be seen as good leaders, as they lead their child through the beginning of their life. Perhaps also, they lead their entire family, in whatever form that takes. I think that you could also frame this discussion in terms of this week's readings in discussing how there are different types of parenting styles just like there are different types of leadership styles. I feel as though most parents have most of these leadership styles in their parenting repertory. What do you think?

  2. I think you raise a great point in asking if parenting can be taught. I believe that it will vary greatly depending on the situation. Broad ideas can be taught, as with leadership, but they must be internalised by the learner and then used in the ways they deem appropriate.

    I believe that in parenting the attitude and personality of the child is the major determinant in which styles and tecniques work best and which are to be ignored completely. This is very similar in to the way a leader must know his followers to successfully motivate them and initiate action. A parent who uses too much force will, in many situations, create an environment where the child feels the only option is to rebel just as a parent who sets no boundaries will, in most cases, be continually used and abused by their child. The same will be true for leaders and followers in a place of business.

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  4. What I love about this post is the idea around "parent"ship or leadership as a relationship. We all have parents, and can therefore reflect on our own experiences over time. I think we are better able to see the variables that affect effective or ineffective leadership or "parent"ship.

    In general, what variables can affect this relationship at any point in time? I am thinking of a situation in which a parent or leader is truly being effective, empathetic, any characteristic we have deemed as true signs of leadership, but the follower or child is not following at that point. In this case, it has nothing to do with the effectiveness of the leader or parent. Or does it? Ultimately, does the responsibility always fall back on the leader even if the tension in the relationship is a direct result of the follower's or child's attitudes and decisions.

    I think that looking at leadership through the lens of "parent"ship can help us see how situational and ever-changing leadership relationships can be because we are human. So, even if a leader has characteristics we see in great leaders, has been through leadership development, has a compassion and drive to help their followers achieve the goals, and ultimately is effective, something in that relationship could still negatively affect the positive impact of that great leadership.

  5. To make a quick comment about parenting being taught - My high school actually offered a class called "parenting." It was an elective, so maybe the students took it for an easy A, but they learned about child development and how to care for infants. They even had to take home the computerized baby for a weekend and respond to it's every need. I am wondering what skills and lessons they really learned in this class, if they remember any of it now, and also what aspects of the class related to leadership? Did they just learn about the physical needs of babies and children? Or did they learn how to reward and punish appropriately, motivate, and influence their children positively as a leader would? Having never taken the class, I can't answer my own questions, but this came to mind while reading the blog post.

  6. This is an interesting discussion. So I think most people agree that leaders work towards some sort of goal. So what is a parent's true goal? One could be simplistic/ animalistic and say that the goal is to keep a baby/ child alive. But people don't usually base whether or not a parent is a "good" parent based on this fact alone.

    But Catherine discusses those exact items in her posting- things that must be, at some point at time, learned regarding child care. They are a set of skills needed to keep a baby alive.

    Another thought: you can't choose your parents. Is a person a "real" leader if the followers had no real choice in who the leader is? Is a warden of a prison a leader over those who are jailed there, not by choice?

  7. Here is another post on parents from last year's class:http://leadershiptheory3450.blogspot.com/2008/12/parents-as-leaders.html

  8. Both this post and the post from the link above reference different ways that leadership can be exhibited within the family. Parents lead, as do siblings and the roles that each family member plays may call for many types of leadership styles. I agree that it is accurate and important to view parents as leaders, but I also think it is crucial to consider that the family, although surely an organizational entity, is quite unlike most organizations. Like Caitlin wrote, there is a bond that requires the "leaders" to stay committed to the "organization" in ways that are not always present in the corporate world. Furthermore, often times familial roles are not nearly as clearly-cut as are, say, job positions. Surely a big sister or brother will exhibit many similar leadership styles towards younger siblings while at the same time being coached, coerced, or otherwise led by their parents... who at the same time are leading the younger siblings as well! And who is to say that a little sister cannot teach her brother?


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