The Parent-Child Pandemic

Uncategorised Viewpoints

More and more in our work we see, what is often described as, ‘parent child’ relationships in organisations. It doesn’t take much explanation for most people to picture what this means. “Parents” (Read: Leaders / Managers) helicopter parenting their children (Read: Team / Reports / Staff – but all adults!). Swooping in to rescue the ‘child’ before they trip, not allowing the ‘child’ to change the rules of the game or create a new game. Telling the ‘child’ exactly how to be in their play, in their learning and in their relationships. Rushing in to sort out squabbles and ensure everyone is happy all of the time – superficially at least.

The irony of this description is that most actual parents (Read: Parents / Teachers / Grandparents / Aunts / Uncles / Carers / Etc) don’t do these things with their kids. We don’t stop them falling, we just encourage them to jump up again when they do, we smile and admire the creativity of their play, we let them explore, we let them find their own way. We recommend they talk to their friends when they fall out, to tell them how they feel.

Historically our treatment of children has been driven by a belief that they will benefit from finding their own way, overcoming challenges and making their own mistakes. They will learn how to navigate the world and how to be the person they want to be by edging into it in their own way.

But what beliefs are driving our treatment of adults when we ‘lead’ or ‘manage’ them as if they will not benefit from the same exploration and challenge?

  • If they fall over they will never try again – so best not to let them?
  • I know all there is to know so it will be better for everyone if they just do it my way.
  • It is more efficient and therefore productive if everyone follows my process.
  • It’s not about them – I’m a leader, my role is to tell people what to do.
  • If they can do it without me – what’s left for me?
  • They can’t manage their emotions – and will never be able to.
  • They can’t cope with tricky relationships – and will never be able to.
  • They are all they will ever be…

Imagine holding any of those beliefs about a kid?

I am a huge fan of this show – Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam – and in this episode he talks with Psychologist Peter Gray about how our actual parenting has changed and, in my view, is moving closer to the unhelpful ‘parent child’ relationships we see in organisations.

It was provocative to me as a parent but I recommend giving it a listen through the lens of your leadership or your management – how might you be stunting the growth or development of your people, and of course – your organisation through your ‘parenting’.

Now imagine letting go more – Lord of the Flies it is unlikely to be.