In my last post we looked at four ways to lead others – push, drag, carry or inspire. In the days since it’s occurred to me that these are also four ways parents can lead their children. But before moving to those ways let’s be clear on one idea about parenting. I’m convinced after 24 years of being a parent that the key responsibility we have as parents, maybe the only responsibility, is to lead our children. This may seem obvious but the truth is many parents don’t lead, either because they don’t know how to or simply don’t believe it’s their place. But the truth is the very first social organizations in history were not businesses, non-profits, or governments but instead it were families. And since healthy organizations require leadership, we shouldn’t be surprised that healthy families need leadership and that every child needs to be lead.
So what are the ways a parent can lead their child?
Parents have the same options available as a leader of any organization – they can push, drag, carry or they can inspire their children. Maybe the only difference is that as parents, especially parents of young children and adolescents, it’s appropriate to use all four ways more often than you do when leading/parenting adults. As a result, the key to successful parenting is having the wisdom to know when to lead which way.
Unfortunately this is usually where we make mistakes as parents. We push when we should carry, we carry when we should inspire, we drag when a gentle nudge is all that is needed.
And just like leading teams, parents (myself included) can fall into one way of leading because it worked so well at one particular moment or season in our child’s life. The tricky part is to be able to recognize the need to move away from a specific way when the child’s ready to be led differently. We’ve seen this in the parenting of our own children, who are now adults. When they were children, we often dragged them to piano practice, pushed them to eat right, carried them when life was beyond their capacity to handle. But as adults our children don’t want nor appreciate being pushed, dragged, and most often not even carried. They do love and want to be inspired. A new season in our children’s life requires a shift in the way we parent.
How do we know we’re parenting the best way? Our children should be accomplishing both our short-term goals (eating their vegetables) and our long-term goals (becoming people who don’t need to be pushed, pulled or carried).
So this leaves us with the question we all face as parents – are we ready to give up our go-to parenting ways for the better way in this moment or season of your child’s life?
Leaders tend to use one of four ways to move people in a desired direction. Each approach works in the short-term, especially when movement is urgently needed. Which way a leader chooses often depends on the people and circumstances involved. But one way is ultimately the best, one that moves people farther and faster than the others. But before we talk about that way, let’s take a look at the other three.
The first way is Pushing Leadership. The reality is sometimes people need a simple push to move forward (think of a mother bird pushing her young out of the nest to learn to fly). In many situations this is the best approach – a gentle push and big things happen. But too often leaders are simply pushy people. Pushy leaders will wear out their team, especially if their team already knows how to fly. When this happens those being pushed simply comply, hide or leave.
The second way many leaders lead is by dragging their followers along. Dragging Leadership is when the leader runs so far ahead that the rest of the team is always killing themselves to stay up. It looks much like a dog race with the leader as the rabbit and the team are the dogs running hard to catch it. It’s an excellent leadership style for dog races but it burns people out quickly. Yes, leaders should set the pace and lead by example but they need to be careful not to confuse running with leading.
The third way is what I call Carrying Leadership. Carrying leadership occurs when a leader steps in and rescues their team by taking on their jobs and responsibilities. As with the first two ways, there are times when leaders need to step in and help their people through a difficult patch. But it turns destructive when leaders create leadership co-dependency by always assuring their team avoids difficulty or pain and thus never learns to deal with problems, issues and rough patches.
Finally, the most effective (and the most difficult) leadership is Inspiring Leadership. Inspiring Leadership requires relationship, clarity, communication, a meaningful cause, an opportunity to succeed, an end to the game, and understanding of role. Inspiring leadership is helping others make their best contribution and, when they do, receive all the credit. In Inspiring Leadership is where the team is center stage and the leader is back stage or in the sound booth assuring the team’s success.
So which way do you lead? Are you a pushing, dragging or carrying leader? If so, take this as a gentle push to become an Inspiring Leader, one who leads others to become all that God’s created them to be so they can do all that God’s planned for them to do. This is the kind of leadership we all crave and the type of leadership that can change our world.