Does Parenting Build Leadership Skills?

by Susan Murhpy, Ph.D.

While common sense might lead us to believe that singlefocused, workaholic employees who work long hours would be promoted most often, the opposite appears to be happening. Current research is finding that, in many cases, women who are mothers are climbing higher on the corporate ladder than non-mothers.

Over 70% of the women on Fortune Magazine's list of "America's Most Powerful Women in Business" are mothers. A May 2003 joint study by Catalyst, the Families and Work Institute and Boston College, entitled "The Leaders in a Global Economy Report," determined that women who were at reporting levels closer to the CEO were more likely to have children. This complements research done by Moe Grzelakowski who interviewed 50 executive women who all believe that raising children transformed their leadership style and made them more effective business leaders. With many dads participating fully in their kids' lives, I believe they're learning the same leadership lessons as these moms. Parents report that raising kids makes them more approachable, patient, responsive, and encouraging. Because family time takes on new importance, parents learn to focus on what's most important and delegate more at work. While raising toddlers, they learn to manage chaos and to remain calm even when crises are occurring all around them. Their desire for "perfection" is tempered when dirty diapers and sleep deprivation become a part of everyday life. Helping kids with homework teaches parents that their way of doing things isn't the only way, so in the workplace they may micromanage less often. Since children point out weaknesses without regard for positional power, parents become skilled at receiving negative feedback. Raising teenagers can be similar to a crash course in leadership as parents learn to earn trust as well as enhance communication skills for discussions about drugs, sex, and alcohol. Coaching teenagers into their roles as responsible and talented adults may add some new coaching tools to an executive's toolkit. So, it appears that the parenting process can build leadership skills. If you don't have kids of your own, I know many men and women who would welcome your borrowing theirs - especially during their teenage years.

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