When asked “what book should I read for leadership?”, acclaimed speaker and author Simon Sinek often recommends the parenting book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”.
He compares parenting to organizational leadership:
“Leadership is like parenting. We have to encourage our kids’ natural capacity and create space for their passions to come alive.”
I loved the book’s illustrations and practicality, including specific scripts to use for common situations of conflict.
As a father of two boys, I read the book for its stated goal of improving communication between parents and their children. However, I was quite surprised at how many practical insights I ingested to improve my managerial skills at work!
Here’s a few of my favorite:
Giving Constructive Feedback
You know what we mean by “constructive” feedback. That’s so often the subversive euphemism for “negative comments, usually by a manager, that attack your identity or value.”
I believe there’s a better way.
I found this quote exceedingly helpful to remind me what attitude I need to have as a parent, coach, or manager when correcting someone:
The attitude behind your words is as important as the words themselves. The attitude that children thrive on is one that communicates, “You’re basically a lovable, capable person. Right now there’s a problem that needs attention. Once you’re aware of it, you’ll probably respond responsibly.”
As the book’s authors put it: “Information is a lot easier to take than accusation.”
Encouraging Autonomy in New Skill Areas
Some lessons from the book don’t transfer directly to many workplace relationships. That being said, I found its excellent philosophy on encouraging kids’ autonomy to translate in multiple ways — both in managing down and in managing up.
To Encourage Autonomy:
1. LET CHILDREN MAKE CHOICES:
“Are you in the mood for your gray pants, or your red pants?”
2. SHOW RESPECT FOR A CHILD’S STRUGGLE:
“A jar can be hard to open. Sometimes it helps if you tap the lid with a spoon.”
3. DON’T ASK TOO MANY QUESTIONS:
“Glad to see you. Welcome home.”
4. DON’T RUSH TO ANSWER QUESTIONS:
“That’s an interesting question. What do you think?”
5. ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO USE SOURCES OUTSIDE THE HOME:
“Maybe the pet shop owner would have a suggestion.”
6. DON’T TAKE AWAY HOPE:
“So you’re thinking of trying out for the play! That should be an experience.”
Building autonomy in new skills when managing down
One of the above tips that has helped me in prompting my direct reports in areas where I’m coaching them is to provide choices. For example, instead of asking a new sales manager “what are you going to do to increase call volume?”, which could overwhelm the new manager, a director could provide several suggestions. This will make the most sense in areas where the manager has more mastery of the skill in question.
Building autonomy in new skills when managing up
With humility, I recognize that I’ll always have a lot to learn. By adapting the above philosophy, I may give my manager a head’s up that I will be tackling (and likely struggling with) a certain stretch project or reaching out to external sources of support. In this way, I’m signalling my intention to build my own autonomy muscle in new skills while providing an opportunity for my manager to step in quickly, perhaps if a sense of urgency requires immediate direction.
As someone who’s wired to thrive without significant praise, I’ve struggled with how to provide a good quality and quantity of well-deserved praise to others.
The book has some superb suggestions for how to avoid the glib “good job!” which encourages few and instructions no one:
Instead of Evaluating (“Good” . . . “Great!” . . . “Fantastic!”), Describe:
DESCRIBE WHAT YOU SEE. “I see a clean floor, a smooth bed, and books neatly lined up on the shelf.”
DESCRIBE WHAT YOU FEEL. “It’s a pleasure to walk into this room!”
SUM UP THE CHILD’S PRAISEWORTHY BEHAVIOR WITH A WORD. “You sorted out your Legos, cars, and farm animals, and put them in separate boxes. That’s what I call organization!
Not only does this approach avoid overstepping and judging someone’s character or identity, but it also provides the benefit of specifically illuminating the behavior you’d like to see more of.
I can remember conversations with my managers from years ago who helped me identify my strengths this way — especially valuable for young professionals!
I hope you enjoyed these nuggets of wisdom that I took away from the parenting book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”!
And lastly, here’s a short clip of Simon talking about the book: