Boardrooms and Building blocks

By Sirisha Govender

Someone commented on a matter a few days ago that got me thinking….” How do you manage with four kids?’ they asked.  The response to this, which seemed to flow so comfortably, was that it is definitely not easy. Raising my ‘Rugrats’ (as I like to call them), is a constant work in progress that needs to be tweaked daily.

As I’m sure every truly candid parent would agree, there are days that are extremely rewarding and days that make you want to pull out your hair, yet, they are yours and are ultimately a reflection of you.

Later, while replaying the interaction over in my mind, I couldn’t help but consider the similarities between my relationship with my kids and my relationship with my team at work.  This for me was an incredible eye opener, which brought me to the realization that there are five key parallels that liken the two and are the fundamentals of both parenting and leading.

Raising my kids seems to come so naturally, perhaps this is because regardless of how I look at it, they are mine and I am accountable for the men and women they will become.  I remember with acute clarity, the anxiety of becoming a new mom.  Like a duck on water, cool and calm on the surface, but beneath the surface paddling away frantically.  I felt completely overwhelmed and in way over my head, terrified to make even the slightest mistake.  Similarly, when I got my first management opportunity, although I was extremely confident on the outside, inwardly the anxiety was overwhelming.

Here I was, like every 20 something year old feeling invincible, yet petrified at the thought of having to lead a team (some older than me) to mutual success.  Like being a new mom, there was no “how to” manual.  I learn every day.  Leading my team too, was a learning process and still is.

I reflect on how each one of my kids has their own unique personality.  I take into account how altogether impossible it may be to reward or correct them without first understanding what they value, appreciate or are skilled at.  Likewise, my team encompasses a host of diverse personalities.  Each with their own strengths and shortcomings.  By recognizing each one and investing the time to appreciate their distinct uniqueness, I am able to communicate effectively and delegate efficiently.

So, the Rugrats I speak of are 12, 10, 9 and 6 and each one at a different stage of development and understanding.  I pride myself in knowing that I am able to mould these little humans into upstanding and ambitious members of society.  I am also under no illusion that the one size fits all mentality is the key.  I am well aware of the fact that what works for my eldest definitely does not work for my youngest and vice versa

I have found myself amidst many a rumble or argument.  As the matriarch I am compelled to act as mediator, because God Forbid one of them have the slightest inkling that the scales of justice may be tipping in the direction of the “suspected” favourite, you guessed it, Pandemonium and complete anarchy.  My team too don’t always harmonize, in fact the three headed snake, difference of opinions, disagreements and conflict seems to rear its monstrous head far too often.  Although the optimist in me always views these encounters as positive team dynamics, I am considered the principal peacemaker, the superior mediator.  To find resolution and maintain peace, each team member needs to feel just as significant as the other, once again anything other than mutual understanding and respect would induce distrust

Kids test your patience, tolerance and composure, constantly pushing the proverbial boundary in an attempt to fray the gentle tapestry of your serenity.  This for me is easily remedied, and I revert to what historically has been ingrained in my memory by my own parents, “in this house, the rules are the rules, no exceptions” the philosophy has never failed me, simply put, every person under this roof sticks to the rules, we don’t bend them for anyone or anything. I understand now that the mere indication of the rules falling to the wayside would have brought into question my parents’ integrity and I realize that trust is of fundamental importance to a child’s upbringing.

I am also not of the misguided sentiment that I myself am exempt from the rules.  For instance, if the rule is, no cell phones, tablets, laptops or games at the dinner table, then mum herself is not allowed to flaunt this privilege.  Parenting by example.

My team at the office too constantly challenges the boundaries.  Admittedly all grown ups at some time or the other are bitten by the rebellion bug.  Again, dear readers, the rules are the rules, we don’t bend them for anyone or anything.  Once your integrity as a leader is brought into question, it is virtually impossible to acquire true engagement and involvement from your team.  Trust is crucial for healthy team dynamics.

Consistency is the key and once again my humble hierarchy too must bow to that which is prescribed.  For instance, if the rule is that lunch is one hour, then the leader herself cannot stroll back into the office after two hours of retail therapy, carting a slew of shopping bags.  Leading by example

To reiterate, the five key parallels between parenting and leading are:

  • Learn: Leadership, like raising kids is never easy and is a constant learning process.  Embrace the opportunity to learn everyday from other leaders and from your team themselves.  Be open to change.  You are ultimately accountable for your team and their success.
  • Listen: Acknowledging your team dynamics and understanding individual uniqueness will allow you to encourage behavior that promote the strengths within your team.
  • Mediate: Conflict is expected and strangely enough needed to encourage creativity. Mediation is one of the keys to great leadership.  Favoritism is both unflattering and detrimental to team dynamics
  • Be assertive: Rules are implemented for a reason, customizing or adapting them to suite individual needs allows for a leader’s integrity to be questioned
  • Lead by example: Leading by example is a discipline, we as leaders need to encourage behavior by reflecting it.

I am certainly not the perfect mom and sincerely don’t claim to be.  My strategy and approach may adjust ever so slightly with the evolution of trends and proclivities, yet the fundamentals of parenting will remain the same.  Likewise, I do not nor will I ever claim to be the greatest leader, yet I believe that with the ebb and flow of business and corporate shifts, the fundamentals of leadership remain stable.  Remember that your kids, like those you lead, are a reflection of you.