How Parents and Bosses Need the Same Lesson.

On Sunday, Jennifer and I watched the last of our three children cross the high school stage. Being a parent is the quintessential form of hierachical leadership. No new employee comes to work, no student enters a classroom,  as full of promise and as completely dependent as a baby enters a family. In a world that over-uses the word “literally,” I exaggerate not when I say that kids literally depend on their parents for survival.  Until they don’t.  So, like every other hierarchical leader, our job as parent is to increasingly get ourselves out of the way, so that the one we lead learns to thrive….so the baby, student, employee learns to be a self-generator, an initiator, a creator, a perseverer, a fail-er, and a finisher.   Without seizing extreme independence — unfettered by our efforts to exert control, knowledge, experience, etc., — they will never become a . . . leader.

Dang!  It’s hard.

Jack, following in Kate and Cece’s footsteps, is teaching us — it has to move in that direction — to let them lead.

“Got any homework, tonight?” I joked with Jack after dinner.  Jennifer had joked with him earlier in the weekend that she felt she had earned the graduation as much as he had, both for helping keep him on track, and especially for the greater effort she exerted, in acceding to his pleas, to not try to keep him on track.

As I begin my 9th semester teaching at Berkeley, I am pushing my students to write about what would make this course their “best class ever,” and I’m suggesting that making it be so great will turn much more upon what they imagine, choose, and seek, than on anything I do at the front of the room.  And my goal for myself in making this my  “best class ever” is that I push them to seize initiative, but even more so that I catch myself taking over, knowing best, “answering” questions (which in truth have multiple, varied and genuine answers) that may not be “my answer.”

I think we have to catch our powerful instinct to parent — as though we have employee-infants, student-juveniles, childish-constituents – and instead allow them to

Lead with the best self!


  • Leadership has an education component, which does not need to go away when those under your supervision are given freedom to fail. You can always give them your experience, and tell them what you have tried in their circumstances, that is, become another person in their circles they can consult, or receive feedback and sharing of experience with. Doing that models one skill they need to have to improve the number of times they succeed. The skill is being able to talk with others about their ideas and share experiences, so we all do not need reinvent the wheel.

  • WOW! Jack has graduated already. CONGRATULATIONS to him, you and Jennifer. You ALL worked hard to get him across life and that stage. Oh the places he’ll go! Empty nesters, what a strange feeling….literally;) xo M

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