On being authentic: From parenting to leadership


This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at . Find all Leadership Lab stories at

The virtues of authenticity have been known from the time of Greek philosophers through to our modern theories of authentic leadership.

However, when are we most authentic, true to our values, and leading with the heart? These virtues are experienced and exercised most passionately in a major role we proudly undertake daily – parenting our children and ‘leading’ within our family unit. What does parenting have to do with leadership?

After studying diverse career paths of many individuals and their integration of family and work lives, here are three ways to improve your leadership style by reflecting back on the relationship between authentic parenting and authentic leadership:

Parenting and leadership rely on the power of authentic communication

Parenting is about an evolving relationship and endless conversations between a parent and a child and in many ways analogous to the leader-follower relationship.

At home, we communicate with our children and strive to be ourselves, to role model and to set examples that we hope our children will follow. However, in being true to our values and our principles, parenting just as leadership challenges us daily.

As our children reach developmental milestones, more demands are made of us and, as they mature, our parenting role evolves. We go from making sure they are safe to explore to empowering them to be independent and resilient.

What parenting experts advise, and most of us are learning daily, is to role model active listening and to communicate openly, patiently and with courage.

Sound familiar? As parents we are leading and managing our ‘family team’ using the same set of skills and competencies that are required in leading organizations.

Now envision the transfer of who we are as parents to our leadership lives. Whether the audience is our ‘family team’ or our executive team, encourage learning through authentic communication, openly and patiently share ideas, uncertainties and desires. Effective leaders set an example by active listening to their organizational members, just like they do their favourite family team.

Parenting and leadership embrace emotions and conflict as a major part of the role

Families as organizations constantly stumble upon conflict and provoke variety of emotions; for example, disagreement about parenting principles within your ‘family team’, or not being on board with a new business strategy.

We are continually asked to manage a range of emotions from more difficult ones like anger and worry to the other extreme of the spectrum of positive emotions like happiness and love.

Contemporary organizational scholarship has a plethora of examples on the role of emotions in our work lives and we are constantly reminded that compassion and empathy for example have a major role to play in work relationships just as they do outside work.

There is perhaps no better way to reflect on the role of emotions than in thinking about some important and memorable parenting moments, including difficult ones (i.e., helping a child cope with his first challenge or learn from a mistake). These situations are resolved much more effectively when we are able to truly empathize with our children or our followers by seeing the other perspective fully and stepping into their shoes.

Despite potentially conflicting views, showing compassion and care will let others know we are fully committed to our leadership task and resolving conflict, rather than avoiding it. In this major task of conflict resolution, we are also building strong relationships.

Thus, whether at home or at the executive table, stepping out of your comfort zone by leveraging a healthy dose of emotions and practising perspective taking will make you a better leader.

Parenting and leadership: stay true to your core values while adapting to change and embracing feedback

Parenting, like leadership, will require tough decision-making on the go; which course of action to take, what will benefit my child most? Staying true to our values exemplifies that we can be authentic and parent in the way that fits best with who we are.

As in any business cycle, each stage of our child’s development from learning first words to seeing him off to university, forces us to embrace change as a constant part of our life. Just as organizational change does, change in our children’s lives, will bring new questions, doubts, and turmoil. It is important to adapt your style to the circumstances, be it is the needs of your children or your employees.

Most importantly, encourage and embrace feedback, listen to what others have to say. Children are our most honest critics; they will tell us loud and clear when things are not going well, thus be open to their authentic feedback.

Finally, as in positive parenting, in order to achieve best results, authentic leaders encourage collaboration, conversation and joint solutions, while they avoid punishment and threat.

Jelena Zikic is an associate professor, School of Human Resource Management, York University.


Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

1 thought on “On being authentic: From parenting to leadership”

  1. Right. So to be a leader, one has to be a fundamentally good person, and an adult. Who knew?

    “The secret to success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Jean Giradoux.

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