When great parenting = great managing

The increasing complexity of the college admissions process can occasionally leave parents unclear as to what they should be doing to best support their kids. Yes, we all know to take care of them and to love them unconditionally. But when does supporting them become over-parenting? When does backing off become disengaging from their lives? When does encouraging them to pursue their dreams become pushing them too hard? Much like the job of a great manager is to help their employees be happy and successful at work, an argument could be made that one important job of a great parent is to help kids be happy and successful in life. Here are five ways great parenting looks like great managing.

1. Define what success looks like.
A good manager doesn’t just define the job responsibilities—she defines what success looks like in the role, how it’s measured, and why it’s important to the mission of the company. A great parent can take the same approach with his kids. Rather than create a narrow definition that ties to transcripts and test scores, think of the values you’d like your kids to develop and take with them when they leave the nest, like work ethic, character, curiosity, and kindness. High school is going to end someday, but a broader definition of success, one that isn’t prescribed by the college admissions process, is something they bring with them into adulthood.

2. Offer regular recognition and praise.
Great managers know that effective praise and recognition can help employees better understand both their own value and what’s important to the organization. And great parents know that one of the best ways to encourage the success they define in #1 is to recognize and praise the right behaviors when they see them. I’ve written two past posts, here and here, on how to praise effectively.

3. Let them find their own route to success.
The best managers don’t legislate every step an employee should take to do an important job well. And they don’t constantly jump in and take over to make sure things are done to their exacting standards. Instead, they describe the desired outcomes, offer appropriate support to guide their people, then let their employees find their own individual routes to get there. Great parents make their expectations clear, but they also acknowledge that every kid is different. They recognize and appreciate what makes each of their kids unique. Instead of expecting that your kids will approach the world exactly as you or their siblings do, encourage them to find how they learn, work, and thrive best.

4. Allow for recoverable failures.
Workplaces can’t benefit from innovation if they don’t allow people to try things that might not work. So great managers encourage employees to experiment, to initiate, and to try new things, all while making sure that any potential failure is one that’s acceptable and recoverable. Great parents appreciate that many of the best opportunities for learning and growth come from the failure that follows trying something that’s new, different, or challenging for their kids. As long as kids aren’t doing anything to put their health or their future at risk (crimes, not test scores, put their future at risk), the occasional recoverable failure can breed resilience, knowledge, and long-term success. Embrace and encourage those opportunities, help them see the ensuing lessons, and enjoy the benefits that come from raising kids who aren’t afraid to fail.

5. Care about the person, not just the results.
Great managers don’t just care about the work—they care about the people behind the work. Employees need to know that they are more than just a name on a paycheck and that someone is concerned about them as people first and employees second. I know that parents don’t need to be reminded to care about their kids. But kids need to know—and to occasionally be reminded—that their parents love them for who they are, not just for what they achieve. Don’t allow the college admissions process to overshadow what’s really important. Happy, healthy kids who feel cared about will bring more joy and fulfillment to your family than any grade, test score, or admissions decisions will.