March 27, 2012 Tony Morgan

Stop Leading like You Parent First Graders

I have four kids ranging in age from 6 to 17. I’ve been parenting for 17 years, so I know a little bit about parenting. I’ve been leading for about 20 years. I also know a little bit about leading. By the way, I’m still learning a lot about both parenting and leading.

What intrigues me, though, is how much you can learn about leading through parenting. Do I believe parents make better leaders? You bet I do! I believe there’s a lot to be learned through parenting that shapes leadership. That includes everything from establishing values, setting expectations, motivating, developing, disciplining, encouraging, celebrating, etc.

There’s no question that our experiences as parents shape our capacity as leaders. I’ll go so far as to say that I think you can learn a lot about the capacity of a leader by looking at how they parent their kids. If you don’t believe me, see 1 Timothy 3:4.

Let’s look at an example. Emily and I have an intentional plan to teach our kids about money. Here’s what it looks like:

Parenting First Graders — With our youngest, we make all the money decisions for her. We decide what she eats, what she wears and what she does for fun. We provide all the income, and we make all the spending decisions. Sometimes, we’ll ask for her input and let her have a choice between options, but we ultimately make every decision. In the process, she’s learning our values, our priorities and how we process decisions.

Parenting Middle Schoolers — With our middle schoolers, we begin to let them make spending decisions. We provide them an allowance. From that allowance, they decide what to eat (beyond what’s in our pantry). They decide what to wear. (That’s right — we make our middle schoolers purchase their own jeans, underwear, socks and shoes.) We let them decide how to invest in entertainment including music, movies, toys, etc. We teach them how to give money away and save money for the future.

Will we warn them if we see them making an unwise choice? Of course, we will. Will we let them make unwise decisions? Of course, we will! We know that people learn from their mistakes and we’d rather they learn those lessons when the consequences are relatively small.

Parenting High Schoolers — With our high schooler, we begin to let her make income decisions. We cut off her allowance. No more monthly handouts. She is still responsible for buying her own clothes, purchasing her own gas and deciding what she’s going to spend on fun with friends, but now she’s also responsible for earning that money.

Do we make her have a job? No. Do we give her money to buy clothes if she doesn’t have a job? No! There’s no more subsidized lifestyle. It’s all up to her. She has her own bank account and her own debit card. From that, she’s learning how to track the money that comes in and the money that goes out. In the near future, we’re also going to make sure she has her own credit card so she learns how to make purchases with it and pay it off every month.

Has she made poor choices with her money? Not many. When you empower people with small decisions with small consequences, they learn how to make big decisions with big consequences.

Here’s what’s frustrating. I routinely see leaders making decisions for people in their organizations like they’re leading first graders. They essentially make every decision for everyone they lead. They hold on to all the authority.

Let me ask you the obvious question: If I parented my high schooler like I parent my first grader, how do you think she would respond? There would be a lot of tension in our relationship. She would rebel. She would look forward to the day that she can leave our home. The exact same thing happens when we lead our team like they’re first graders.

I’ve never met a leader who admitted they were a micromanager. In 20 years of leadership, I’ve seen plenty of micromanagers.

Are you leading like you’re parenting first graders?

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Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
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