Parenting as managing

Apparently, my post on productivity with kids has become the all time favorite for my blog (Thanks for all the plugs). So I though I might follow it up by digging a little deeper into the idea of parent as manager.

Let me start with a quote from my favorite writer in management. In his chapter on Motivating for Peak Performance in The Practice of Management, Drucker discusses how motivation through fear is not effective in industrial society.
"Responsibility - not satisfaction - is the only thing that will serve."
And in the next paragraph he adds:
"One can be satisfied with what somebody else is doing; but to perform one has to take responsibility for one's own actions and their impact. To perform, one has, in fact to be dissatisfied, to want to do better."
The managers job, in short, is to encourage employees to take responsibility for their job. For an employee to take responsibility for their job, a manager must construct an environment where the employee is not meet with road blocks but with opportunities to excel. Drucker lists four ways to empower the "responsible worker".
"They are - careful placement, high standards of performance, providing the worker with the information needed to control himself, and with opportunities for participation that will give him a managerial vision. All four are necessary"
As a parent interested in raising a "responsible" child, I find our job is essentially the same. Take for instance, the first criteria. Careful placement of your child entails guiding your child to find the goals that will best challenge his abilities by avoiding goals that are too difficult or are too simplistic. I would not enroll my 3 year old in a calculus class because it is well beyond his abilities. I would also not set a goal for him to crawl, as he mastered that years ago. Finding age-appropriate games, activities, and studies may sound intuitive to most parents, yet I've found I often underestimate what children can accomplish.

Many years ago, while working at a camp, I was pushing canoes into the lake when one of the campers, a petite 6 year old girl offered to help. These canoes, partially buried in the sand, were not trivial in launching. I stood back, a bit amused by her offer, but willing to let her try. And I watched in amazement as she dug her heals into the ground, threw her entire weight into the canoe, and pushed something twice her weight out of the wet sand into the water.

You would think that after witnessing this girl do such a thing, I would be better at not underestimating my kids abilities. Yet, I am still amazed over and over again what new skills my kids have learned.

Last week, my 3 year old came up stairs with two vitamins in his hand and said, "Here sister, I got you a vitamin." Apparently, he climbed up into one of our cabinets, opened up the vitamin bottle (I thought they were supposed to be child proof?), and removed two vitamins for himself and his sister.

Never underestimate!

Careful placement also entails observing and responding to your child's needs and personality in appropriate ways. My son for instance is a people person. He loves (demands?) to work and play with other people. Often times it doesn't even matter if you are playing with him, just as long as you are in the room. At school, he sometimes gets frustrated when the other kids want to do their own thing and don't want to play with him. My daughter, on the other hand, has no problem doing her own thing.

Working within their personality, it is much easier to establish a positive approach to parenting that encourages them to become the adult they want to be. I would not push my son into solitary activities as it would be pure torture for him. However, my daughter may easy enjoy those types of activities.

The second criteria, high standards of performance, does not mean that standards must be set by the parent. It does not mean drilling a child on his multiplication tables or belittling them if they do not succeed. What it does refer to, however, is that as parents, we should encourage our children to perform to the best of their abilities. Whether it is doing chores, interacting with playmates, practicing an instrument, building a lego castle, riding their bikes, learning their letters, or anything else, high standards should guide the effort.

Often, children adopt their own high standards when playing that often amaze adults. With other tasks, like chores, part of the job of a parent as manager is to ensure the jobs are completed to a set of standards. The point of standards, however, is not that they are intrinsic to the job or in any way disassociated from the end product. Rather, standards are a way of objectively identifying what should be done, with a direct tie to reality as the judge.

Well, this post is already longer than I originally intended, so I'll save the other two criteria for a later post.


  1. Interesting. Just yesterday a friend and I were discussing the ways in which business mentoring is like parenting. There's probably a double-book proposal lurking in here someplace -- one for the business market and one for the parenting market, each explaining one field in terms of the other.

  2. Great idea Kyle. It may be a nice way to learn a little extra income.