Parents act like politicians, micromanagers instead of leaders

A mother recently asked me for advice on a parenting issue she was having with one of her children. I asked her to define the word discipline.

She thought for a moment and replied, “Well, it means creating rules and enforcing them consistently. Right?”

No its wrong. To be fair, most parents would give similar answers, which begins to explain why something so simple – raising a child – has become so difficult for so many parents today. Mind you, you can’t discipline without rules, and a rule that isn’t consistently enforced isn’t a rule, it’s just a wish, but enforcing rules is not the essence of discipline.

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Discipline is the process by which a parent transforms a self-centered and strong-willed child (that is, every child ever born) into a disciple who follows the parent’s lead. Discipline is primarily a matter of rules, not rules. It is leadership, not legalism; teaching, not supervising; command, not demand; right communication, not right consequences.

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Just because someone is in a leadership position doesn’t mean they’re a leader. The micromanager is a good example. Micromanagers are detail-obsessed by nature, always busy, busy, busy. Wherever you find a micromanager, you don’t find an effective leader, but an anxious person who is often frustrated, angry and exhausted. In short, micromanagers are legalists, and legalism negates the ability to lead.

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Leadership is not a question of IQ, socioeconomic status, or academic background. It comes down to a certain demeanor that exudes a calm, natural authority. Like myself, most Americans over 60 were raised by parents who governed not by creating a multitude of rules, but by setting clear and persuasive broad expectations.

In the 1950s, for example, it was rare for parents to even check to see if a child had done their homework. And yet we baby boomers have (mostly) done our homework. Ask someone my age why that was, and they’ll probably reply, “Well, I guess I did my homework because my parents and teachers expected me to do it.”

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Leadership is expectation, not belief. Persuasion is the politician’s tool – someone who avoids making unpopular decisions. Politicians are therefore often wishy-washy. A politician might say one thing and then, after looking at the polls, say another. Leaders, on the other hand, force people to their point of view. They have no problem making unpopular decisions. What leaders say, they mean.

Of course, many of today’s parents treat their children more like politicians or micromanagers than leaders. What about you?

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