PEOPLE AT WORK COLUMN: The Empowering Leaders Of The Family

IN Michael Useem’s book “The Leadership Moment,” he narrates the story of 16 firefighters who plunged into a raging forest-and-grass fire in Montana with only three of them escaping fiery deaths. Included among the survivors was the crew chief of the firefighters, Wagner Dodge, who survived because of an innovative technique he used to protect himself. As the fire chased Dodge, he set another fire in front of him which cleared an area where he was able take refuge in. He signaled his crew to join him in this safe area but they chose to disregard his instructions. Because of a series of wrong decisions that he made in the course of their mission, the crew chief’s credibility had been eroded and in the final moment when he should have been believed, his crew did not–and as a result, they faced certain death.

This story illustrated in a negative way the importance of the leader’s credibility to the team’s survival. In hindsight, Useem advises, “If you have made several problematic decisions in a row, be prepared to have your leadership questioned. It may be a moment of personal trial, a point when the cooperation of others is most needed but least forthcoming.”

The leadership moment, or the moment when a leader’s decision spells triumph or disaster for his followers, is an experience that parents also face. I’d like to call this “The Parenting Moment” or the moment when a parent’s decision can lead her children to triumph or disaster. This Parenting Moment occurs more often during the teen years of our children. I am sure parents with teenagers will agree with me when I say that parenting teenagers is a lot like leading in a crisis. Dealing with our own teenage children may even be a lot tougher than managing subordinates.

Consider this scenario. By the time our beloved children have reached teen years, our credibility would probably have gone down a notch or two as they look at the world—and parents—with increasingly questioning eyes. We may no longer be the greatest mother on earth on whom they have relied and trusted fully for the past 12 years. Our authority as moms may now be tested as our teenagers become more exposed to the world’s confusing realities. Many times, we struggle to find the right balance between letting go and keeping them safe.

In this regard, perhaps we can find a guide from Useem’s “The Leadership Moment” for our own Parenting Moment. He writes, “If you want trust and compliance when the need for them cannot be fully explained, explain yourself early. If you need information on which you must soon act, ask for it soon. Being a person of few words may be fine in a technical position, but it is a prescription for disaster in a position of leadership.”

Useem is telling us that communication is the foundation of trust. And trust is the reason why subordinates follow leaders. Applying this advice to the challenges of parenting teenagers, it also makes a lot of sense. Trust is the reason why our growing children will continue to heed our advice. And this can only be obtained through constant communication.

Here’s another piece of advice from Useem for leaders that can apply to parents as well. “If you expect those who work for you to exercise their own judgment, provide them with the decision-making experience now. If you count on them to understand the conditions as best they can, share your past experience with them now. If your leadership depends on theirs, devolving responsibility and sharing stories is a foundation upon which it will reside. Thinking strategically when confronted with a crisis or challenge is a learned skill that requires sustained seasoning.”

Useem provides us with a formula for empowering our subordinates and training them to have a leadership perspective as well. It is the same with our teenage children; they need to become empowered as they move from adolescence to adulthood. They need to have a “leadership” perspective or see from the eyes of a responsible adult. And the ingredients of this formula are sharing with them our own experiences and giving them opportunities to exercise their own coping skills as adults.

These management lessons can help us face our Leadership Moments at work and our Parenting Moments at home and provide us with the confidence that one day, our children will grow up to become responsible adults able to deal successfully with their own moments in life.

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. Published in Metro Working Mom May  2005.

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