How Dealing With Toddler Tantrums Has Made Me a Better Leader
While you shouldn't manage employees like children, there are strategies you can borrow from your parenting skills.
Any working parent can relate to this scene: You’re trying to get yourself off to work so you can make your 8 a.m. conference call and, as you get your toddler up and ready for the day, she decides to throw an epic tantrum because she prefers to eat cupcakes for breakfast -- or, in my daughter’s case, she avoids brushing her hair or wearing an outfit that actually matches to preschool. How you react in these moments not only sets boundaries for your kids, it also strengthens your skills as a parent.
While I’ve learned to deal with these regular meltdowns, what I least expected was they would actually teach me something about myself as a leader in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong -- I’m certainly not suggesting employees should be managed as if they were children. I just realized that many of the strategies I use in dealing with these frustrating moments align with how I should act as a leader within my organization.
Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader
Here are some of the strategies I’ve implemented when dealing with my toddler’s tantrums that I’ve applied to my ever-evolving approach as a leader:
1. Have patience.
One of the biggest things that motherhood has taught me is to be patient. Being a millennial myself and growing up with the addiction to instant gratification through tools like food delivery apps, Google and my mobile device, patience was more of an acquired trait. I really had to work on completely shifting my mindset.
The same is true for me in business. As a young manager, I sometimes underestimated the time it might take someone on my team to work on a task and would impatiently ask for updates. I was interested in showing immediate results for clients and was not as disciplined in having the patience to ensure we’re producing not only smart work but the right type of work. After dealing with a toddler’s needs, now I realize emails don’t have to be answered within 15 minutes and a clever strategy supersedes quick wins.
2. Don’t be a control freak.
As a recovering work hoarder, I learned early on in my career that you can’t take on everything yourself just to control every last detail. Not only do you limit opportunities for your team, you end up feeling overwhelmed and can stunt your own growth. Ultimately, your team’s success is your success.
Similarly, if some days my daughter goes to preschool in a mismatched outfit with unruly hair, I’ve learned to take a deep breath and recognize that she’s actually gaining her own independence and sense of self. If you can let go of that uneasy feeling of wanting everything to be perfect and controlled, you’ll find that you and those around you can actually flourish.
3. Celebrate small wins.
Whoever first said “It’s the little things in life” was so right. In recent months, there have been countless times when I’ve given my husband a silent high-five behind our kids’ backs when a seemingly small win occurs in our household, such as my almost 3-year-old brushing her teeth without incident or when she quietly eats her healthy breakfast in five minutes flat. Learn to celebrate those bright spots as victories and give a showering of compliments to your toddler to reinforce that positive behavior.
In business, it’s equally important to celebrate similar moments. It’s not just the big client wins or the culmination of a long project that warrants recognition. Sometimes it’s more important to give a team member a fist bump when they nailed leading their first client call or express public recognition to an employee who spoke up with an innovative solution to a budget obstacle. These little acknowledgments keep morale up and make people feel like they are winning every day. So the next time a small victory crosses your desk, give yourself permission to do a Rafael Nadal-sized fist pump and it’s guaranteed to make you say, “Vamos!”
4. Strive for consistency and perseverance.
Last, but definitely not least, consistency and perseverance are absolutely critical. I know these two might seem obvious, but identifying these strategies isn’t the difficult part, it’s actually putting them into practice when you’re at your weakest moment that separates you as a diligent parent and strong leader. You have to mean what you say and follow through on it, no matter how it makes you feel. I know, easier said than done. Toddlers and employees alike can smell inconsistency, so stand for your principles and process -- that structure will make employees (and kids) feel secure because they’ll never have to guess where you stand. Rules and procedure are there for a reason -- just like bedtime.
Being a parent to a toddler is extremely rewarding, but it’s not without daily challenges. What I find motivating is that she is always pushing me to be better. I feel the same way about being a leader within my organization. It is a great privilege to help grow others through their work and professional development. So, the next time you’re facing a challenge at the office, try to remember these tips (or your own meltdown management experiences). It just might yield the solution you’re seeking.
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