One of the really great things about my new job is my new manager. He is a sixties-ish Wisconsin native who has enough characteristics similar to my dad to make me already believe after two weeks of work that he will be great to work for. But even beyond his mid-western fatherly traits, he seems to genuinely be a good manager. Everyone who works for him credits his constancy and calm to making it through a really volatile time in the company’s history. And other departments, when I introduce myself say in a sort of longing way, “oh you get to work with Jim, Jim is great.”
And since I have not had the good fortune to work for many good managers, I am already watching him carefully, both to know how best to work for him and for my own sense of how I might be a good manager in the future. So far, what I’ve come up with is this: good management looks a lot like good parenting. The context and the stakes are obviously quite different but I can recognize key strengths that make or break both. For instance, Jim will drop everything he is doing to have a good conversation. On the parenting front, conversations sprout up in all sorts of environments where they might not be convenient–when you are on the way out the door, or mopping the floors or reading an awfully good magazine article–but stopping to acknowledge the question and respond is key to good communication. Jim also moves around a lot, sits in other people’s offices or when he has a question he comes over and asks, not through e-mail or phone call or yelled from his chair but physically moves to you. This is also key to kids, moving to their level and coming to them instead of always demanding they come scampering to you. He also trains an employee to do something and then has them do it, right there, right away with every confidence that they will do it. Every kid needs that. Patient instruction and then encouragement and opportunity to learn themselves.
There are lots of other ways management and parenting reflect on one another and I’m sure I am not the first to notice these ties. But it does have me thinking that I might not be ready for management any time soon. I am not particularly good at any of those things with my kids–addressing their questions patiently, moving to their level and interacting, showing and then letting them have independence–so I might be a ways off managing adults who need from me these same traits. I guess for now, I’ll keep working on listening and responding to the four year old’s bazillion questions and letting the two year old run full tilt down the hill to the park. I’m working on being a better parent and maybe in the process picking up some great management training.