The secret link between leading and parenting

Leading and parenting require dramatically different skills, styles, and approaches. That’s why I cringe when, after I’ve shown a leader how to hold an effective conversation with his peers, he says, “I could really use this with my kids.”


It would be one thing if the kids were 25 or 30 years old, but typically little Susie is 7 and Brett is a junior in high school. These kids are at different development stages from Tom who runs the district sales team and Jennifer who heads up finance. What you say to Tom or Jennifer won’t work with Susie and Brett. In fact, what works with Susie won’t work with Brett.

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When it comes to conversational skills—how we talk with one another—it’s helpful to speak to adults as adults and to kids based on their developmental stages and the nourishments they need at that stage.

But happiness and success require more than skills. There also is this thing called way of being. When you respond to life’s challenges, are you grounded and centered—or off balance? When a surprise strikes, do you respond from a mood of hope and ambition—or from a mood of resentment or resignation? Are you fully present with what’s happening in front of you—or is your mind preoccupied with memories of the past and thoughts about the future? In short, are you here—or are you somewhere else?

Asking these questions brings us into the arena of mindfulness. It’s the place where we are either captive to our habitual patterns of thought, emotion, and reaction or capable of seeing them with just enough clarity that we can pause, breathe, and respond in new ways.

In the past few years, mindfulness has garnered a lot of attention in business, education, and health care. There is mindfulness-based stress reduction, brain science research showing the positive impact of meditation, smart phone apps for being mindful, and a conference called Wisdom 2.0 for people practicing mindfulness in the world of high tech. There are also books about mindful parenting that reveal the power of mindfulness in raising healthy and happy kids. What’s been missing is a guide to parenting that offers a third way between the jagged edges of authoritarian parenting and the warm mush of permissive parenting, one that offers specific mindfulness practices both derived from ancient teachings and buttressed by modern science—in short, a book that would allow the managers I coach to become more mindful at work by practicing mindful parenting at home.

This is why I was excited to read Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits & Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child. The authors, psychologist Shauna Shapiro and physician Chris White (standard disclaimer: White is a friend of mine), reframe the notion of discipline by highlighting its lesser-known meaning, “to teach,” meshing it with kindness and curiosity, and inviting parents to support healthy self-discipline not only in their children, but also in themselves. The result is a practical and inspiring exploration of what’s possible in parenting.

So why am I reviewing this book in a blog about leadership? Three reasons:

1. If you take on the practices of mindful discipline that Shapiro and White recommend, you will build mindfulness muscles that are equally present and valuable at work. Such is the beauty of being a human being with a single mind and body that travel through all of life’s roles.

2. The same modern science that undergirds their approach to parenting supports a mindful approach to leadership.

3. Becoming a better and happier parent is intrinsically valuable—even if it has zero impact on your leadership.

There is one other good reason to become more mindful: it helps you avoid making the mistake I described at the beginning of this post: applying the same conversational recipes to everyone you meet just because they work in a single context.

Let me close with a passage that rings true for me as a parent and coach and may just strike a chord with you:

The mindful parent teaches discipline primarily by embodying it. Whether it is by handling stressful situations with confidence and grace, or by falling apart and modeling ways to recover, she teaches her child primarily through her own way of being with her family and with the world.