Business Transformation

5 ways leading a team is like raising a family

The world has changed so much in the last few months, its barely recognisable.   We are no longer able to keep our worlds of work and family separate, having had the two smashed together in the most unorthodox way.  We are now leading our organisations from the comfort of our couch, managing organisational financials while marking maths homework, having team meetings while your 11 year old sits beside you doing her homework, and wondering if you could perhaps put your 14 year old son on a performance improvement plan.  While we typically have worked hard to keep these two worlds separated, there are five key similarities to both of them:

  1. Bring love
    At the foundation of any family is love and so too this must exist at the foundation of teams. Through connection, understanding and forgiveness, you can build a strong, cohesive team that understands and values each other. A longitudinal study completed in 2014 by Barsade and O’Neill concluded that organisations with a culture of companionate love between employees have significantly higher levels of engagement and lower levels of withdrawal (emotional exhaustion and absenteeism). This then permeates out to clients, customers and stakeholders.  You can build connection with your people by sharing stories with each other about your past, finding things in common and forgiving people when they make mistakes.
  2. Build your environment
    In all good homes, creating an environment for children to grow and thrive is essential in setting them up for success. At work creating a psychological safe environment for your people to feel free to express themselves in whatever way they require will help to foster creativity, innovation, productivity and engagement.  This is supported through research completed by Amy Edmondson and Zhike Lei in 2014 for Harvard Business School where they found that organisations that create psychologically safe environments for their people have increased innovation and desire to improve their team or organisation.  Building trust, being curious and promoting constructive conflict are great ways to build psychological safety in teams.
  3. Promote health
    We want our children to be able to thrive in a world that is increasingly demanding and where stress is at an all-time high. When they are healthy and happy, both physically and mentally, they create the skills and resilience to be able to meet these demands. The same applies to the people who work for you. By supporting your people to live healthy lives through diet and exercise and have a positive mindset to be able to approach their work and challenges with the resilience needed, you help them to manage stress, reduce illness and increase engagement. Research completed by Friedman (2014), Coulson, McKenna and Field (2008), and Chignell (2018), all suggest that health focused cultures increase healthy relationships with peers, stakeholders and customers, increase our ability to assess risk, make better decisions and improve productivity while reducing errors. Leading by example through switching off early from work some days, taking time for exercise and eating healthy are all great ways to promote health at work.
  4. Watch your language
    It’s confronting when your child repeats back to you the same words, phrases or slang that you know you use every day. It’s particularly horrifying when the words used are a cuss at some other driver, or you make an error and your child chastises you with your own words. As parents, we are constantly on show, being watched and observed, listened to (even though it appears otherwise) and teaching our children how to behave. Our employees also watch, observe and take in all our words, actions, behaviours and values, good and bad.  Research completed by Tanner, Brügger, van Schie and Lebherz  (2010) shows a positive relationship between a leader’s ethical behaviours and the attitudes of employees to their jobs. Attitudes such as job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation and overall engagement were all positively influenced by a leaders actions. A great way to build awareness of your language is through daily reflection on what went well, what didn’t and what you can change in the future.
  5. Show your vision
    We all have hopes and dreams for our children – usually for them growing up and being successful at whatever they choose to do, being happy with their life, partner, job, dreams and aspirations. As a leader, you also want your people to thrive, develop, learn and succeed. It’s important to have a vision of the future and a strategy to get there, so your people can make the link between what they do on a daily basis and the goals of the team and organisation.  Yet in a 2016 study, Kause found that a mere 12 per cent of organisations were actually able to implement their strategy successfully, about 70 per cent of strategic initiatives failed and less than 20 per cent of employees were able to articulate what their organisational strategy actually was.  Get sharp with your strategy by using clear and plain English, talk about it often and make clear links back to it with everything you say.

As working from home is becoming the new normal, we can identify comparisons between leading teams and raising children and use the principles of parenting to help create work families that deliver now and into the future.


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Wendy Born
Wendy Born helps leaders maximise their talent and strengths to achieve extraordinary results. As an engaging facilitator, coach and speaker, she works with executives, senior leaders and leadership teams to create high-performance organisations. Wendy Born is the author of Raising Leaders and The Languages of Leadership, both published by Major Street. Wendy Born is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.