Some of our most successful business leaders are also family men and women. But are they successful leaders because they are parents, or successful parents because they are leaders? We look at some of the links between the two.
Sir Richard Branson and Baroness Karren Brady have two big things in common. They know how to build and run a business, and they also know how to raise a family. Neither are easy. The two combined, even less so.
But as many parenting and leadership skills overlap, perhaps the success of both are interlinked. Lessons we learn as parents, for example communicating clearly can influence the kind of leader we are. In this case a directive one. Similarly, being a supportive leader will shape what sort of parent we’ll become.
Psychologist Robert House outlined in his leadership Path-Goal Theory that if you want your staff to achieve their goals, you need to help, support and motivate them.
Just as a good parent helps create a path for their child to succeed, the same is true of a successful leader in the business world.
The ability to prioritise
Emily James is a mum of two who heads up a Marketing and Communications Team. Becoming a parent has helped her lead her team more efficiently by having to prioritise.
"Instead of trying to do and respond to everything, I prioritise and focus on the important stuff and enjoy my job more as a result," she explains.
The same can be true when raising a child. It’s a balancing act forcing parents to focus on the things that matter.
Leading by example
Jennifer Jenkins set up her town planning consultancy Smith Jenkins while expecting her third child. She wanted to continue doing the job she loved, without the stress of sticking to an employer’s work patterns.
"I am an employer because I am a parent. If I had not had a third child it is highly likely that I would still be working for someone else," she says.
Leading by example is one of the many skills she feels that overlap between her role as a leader and a mum.
"At work, I model the way I expect junior members of staff should act at meetings, and ask that they look at the work I have produced as an example of how something should be done. At home, this is no different with behaviour and helping with homework."
Emily James also believes that leading by example had a positive influence on her team and will impact on her children.
"I leave before most of my team and felt guilty to begin with but realised it was good for them to see senior management leaving on time," she notes. "It shows you can be effective at your job without working 24/7. I also think it’s good for children to see their mums go out to work and be successful. It hopefully motivates them in later life."
Bringing your team together
"How come I can organise a conference for 100 people, but getting three children out of the house, fully clothed is such a challenge?" is a phrase Jenkins uses often.
Like many parents, she finds it easier to lead a team of people in the right direction at work, than get her children pulling together at home. Children will push the boundaries, whereas in work there are clear boundaries in place.
The two obviously need different approaches, but being able to get your staff and/or children working together will help them develop and succeed in the long-term.
Patience and participation
Liam Bennett, Managing Director of StudentProofreading.co.uk, believes that he is a better leader since having children. Before being a parent he achieved results by using his position and simply telling his staff what to do.
"With children, that’s not the case," he says. "You need to show patience and try to understand what it is they want, so you can get them to participate in what you want to achieve."
Applying this parenting approach to his business has helped him build a happier and more successful team. Clearly both roles and environments have different challenges and rewards, yet much in common, and lots of key skills we can teach a future generation of leaders.