January 15, 2017 Parenting as a Management Tool
Parenting doesn’t come with a job description—and that’s probably a good thing for the sake of the species. But if it did, it would be a long one. In her book, If You’ve Ever Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything, author Ann Crittenden lists a dozen distinct “jobs” within the umbrella of raising children and managing a household, ranging from crisis management to tending the pets. She cites other studies that have come up with even longer lists.
But to parents, “managing” isn’t high praise. Managing is equated with getting by, coping, surviving.
In the corporate world, on the other hand, “managing” is a job. Managers almost always have job descriptions, often with a dozen or more separate tasks. But the heart of what they do, the “managing” part, often looks very much like, well, being a parent.
One of the key similarities can be found in the term “multitasking.” Though coined only 40 years ago, the word has come to represent one of the core dimensions of modern working life, particularly as communications channels have proliferated.
Women appear to be inherently somewhat more capable than men at multitasking, but according to Crittenden, research with both animals and humans shows that being a parent—mother or father—actually appears to increase the brain’s capacity for multitasking. A greater ability to anticipate problems, quickly re-prioritize tasks and remain calm all seem to flow from this skill.
“The interruptions of life matter—they may, in fact, be what is most important,” says Madeline Kunin, who served three terms as governor of Vermont after raising her family.
“Tidiness is not everything,” she wrote in her book, Living a Political Life. “The ability to layer experience, fold one part over another, smooth out the wrinkles, is a survival skill that is essential in both private and public life.”
Another dimension is that of empathy—a term that has yet to make an appearance in any corporate job description, yet a skill that could scarcely be more important to a manager. Parenthood, in contrast, could probably be relabeled “empathy training,” with corollary components of active listening and effective communication. Research suggests that parenting can increase these skills in ways that are directly applicable to managers.
One of the first people to see the leverage of child-rearing as management training was Thomas Gordon, who in 1970 published the book Parent Effectiveness Training, the Tested New Way to Raise Responsible Children. After several years teaching the P.E.T. course, he kept hearing how his graduates were using the techniques in their corporate jobs, which led him to expand the reach of his ideas with Leadership Effectiveness Training, the No-Lose Way to Release the Productive Potential of People.
“It took me far too long to see the almost-exact parallel between the parent-child relationship and the boss-subordinate relationship,” Gordon wrote. “But after so many fathers taking P.E.T. reported how they were using everything they learned in class in the organization where they worked, I finally got the point.”