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What parenting can teach us about leading

Leadership is something that can be practiced in every part of life. Parents especially need to manage this.

4 min read


What parenting can teach us about leading


What can leaders teach parents?

What can parents teach leaders?

What if leaders and parents are found in one in the same person?

These are some of the concepts that Stewart Friedman and Alyssa Westring explore in their new book, “Parents Who Lead.” Both are parents as well as professors — Friedman at the Wharton School and Westring at DePaul University — and both have conducted extensive research into the topic. They also teach and speak to companies large and small on the challenges of integrating work and life.

The book’s subtitle, “The Leadership Approach You Need to Parent with Purpose, Fuel Your Career, and Create a Richer Life,” demonstrates the challenge that an individual is striving to succeed at work while at the same time being a fully engaged parent feels.

Neither of the authors envisioned that “Parents Who Lead” would provide advice for the millions of parents who are working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its timeliness is rooted in the book’s concept of the “four-way win” — how to pursue improved performance in the different parts of life (at work, at home, in the community and the private realm of the self) by creating greater harmony among these various aspects.

Today with parents working at home, integration of personal commitments and professional goals become paramount. The four-way win dispenses with the popular notion of “balance,” which implies the necessity of sacrifice in one part for success in others.

Specifically, Friedman and Westring propose suggestions to help parents who lead progress toward an ideal future, discover a fresh way to engage with children, create a community of caregiving and experiment ways to improve parenting and leading. This is vital now as well as after the pandemic.

“The method we use,” Friedman told me, “is to ask them to describe an ideal day, 15 years from now: What happens in the morning, in the afternoon and the evening?  Who are you with, and what’s the impact you’re having, your legacy?  It’s not designed as a plan but rather a picture of the future you want to create for your life. It’s a source of inspiration and direction, for you and all those you want to bring along with you — including and especially your children — to a better tomorrow.”

Parenting, as in leadership, is a matter of finding what works through trial and error or experimentation. “We describe six different kinds of experiments that we’ve observed in our research, from generating quality time to practicing shared values to letting go and more,” says Friedman. “The fun and creative part is that every family is different, and each one designs experiments that are suited to the particular values and interests that matter to them and to those they care about most.”

“Parents are leaders, and the powerful science of leadership has a lot to teach us about the art of parenting,” says Friedman. “Any working parent can learn to lead a more purposeful and harmonious life by designing a future based on core values, engaging with children in fresh and meaningful ways, cultivating a community of caregiving and support in all parts of life, and experimenting to discover better ways to live and work.”

It’s never easy to lead, nor is it easy to parent. Still, when you apply yourself to the discipline of each, then lessons appear that can enable you to succeed more holistically and in ways that affirm your effectiveness as a leader and your worth as a parent.


John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. In 2019, Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of 14 books, including “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership” and his newest, “GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us.” Learn more about why he wrote “GRACE” in this short video.

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