Years ago my college aged son asked me if he could take his car back to school. I immediately said No!”. When he asked why, I danced around an explanation but gave no real reason other than I didn’t think he needed a car on campus. He reminded me that when I was his age, I had a car at school. Times were different, I told him as I heard my own mother in my head. He was a very responsible dean’s list student and other than he’s still my baby and I worry when he drives, I couldn’t come up with a good reason. He’s 32 now, married and a good driver. Yet, even now, sometimes I hesitate when I hand him the keys to my car.
While I never considered myself one of those overprotective helicopter parents, I have always been a worrier when it comes to my kids. Regardless of age, like parents everywhere, I want to protect them from harm but have come to realize that if I pump the brakes too often, I could send wrong messages about trust, independence, and responsibility—character traits I strongly admire in both of my boys.
It’s not that different in the workplace when bosses and managers are too controlling, which may send silent signals that they’re not confident in someone’s ability to get the job done. Like overprotected children, employees who are robbed of responsibility may be prevented from growing into strong leaders who by example have learned how to empower others.
As parents, it’s sometimes difficult to accept that as your children get older, you lose control. While leaders can’t always control what happens, like parents, they can foster understanding, shape perceptions and influence outcomes through communication. It should begin with encouraging two-way conversations at all levels.
The front office may make decisions, but it’s important not to leave middle management and other communicators out of the loop. These people can deliver your message and control rumors if they are kept informed.
Hear it from you
Talk to people, not about them. If you have a problem with someone or want them to do something differently, let them hear from you to avoid second-guessing and misinterpretation.
Provide feedback that is specific, so people understand your expectations, what they need to work on and what tasks you want them to tackle.
Face to face
It’s easier to dash off an e-mail than pick up the phone or walk down the hall, but when times are tough or you have to deliver unpleasant news, nothing replaces face-to-face contact even if that’s online.
Easy does it
Put systems in place to foster open communication where people are not embarrassed to ask questions, seek feedback, and create dialogue. You may be surprised at the problems they solve.
Teach, don’t tell
Think about mentors you’ve had in your life. They lead by showing and helping, not by intimidation and fear or doing the work instead.
Speak from the heart
How your message is received can directly impact how your vision and direction is embraced. That’s why it’s so important to speak from your heart to their hearts so they understand how your words impact, benefits or affects them. When you make people feel valued, they will be more empowered to follow your lead.
In case you are wondering, I did agree to let my son take his car to school but only after I shared my concerns and laid down some rules. At the time, I knew he didn’t fully understand what the fuss was about, but he recognized Mom was slowly letting go. Perhaps if he has a family of his own one day, when the time is right, he’ll remember how he felt when Mom handed him the keys.