The key to cultivating the next leaders of your organization is to work every day to help the candidates get what they need in order to make their next steps. By “cultivation,” I mean gardening – not training, grooming or developing. Cultivation takes time, sunshine, water and manure.
You should require candidates to make the same investment of themselves. Any potential leader who isn’t willing to do that should be removed from your list.
Many small business leaders concentrate on what they’ve been told they need to do in the workplace: develop vision and goals, bring in new clients, oversee daily details and monitor monthly earnings. Their meetings focus on tasks and tactics, on the urgent and daily business.
The key is offering yourself and your time – continuously, honestly and frankly. Give up your excuses for not doing this personal, on-going mentoring, such as “too busy, don’t like emotion and personal interactions, I’m a big picture person, the worthy people will learn by themselves.”
Leaders set the tone for the whole workplace. Like a deadly infection, your emotions and reactions are catching. Generals who panic will create panicky troops. It’s the same at work.
No, you can’t be yourself if you overreact to sudden changes, crises, bad news or big mistakes. Your team will also overreact and blow it if you act:
Over reactors always have excuses for why they must react the way they do. But remember the fire drill that every public figure, including athletes and celebrities, must learn in order to be followed – keep your head, have fortitude, persevere.
Don’t get sucked into any situation as if it’s life-or-death, no matter how important you’re afraid it is. Step back, put it in a long-term context that restores your spirit, and start thinking and strategizing.
Sometimes a walk around the block is enough; sometimes you have to talk it out in order to see the big picture; sometimes you simply have to give up fear and control, and just go for it.
An effective attitude begins with, “We can handle this. Here’s my plan.” Or you first go to the appropriate leaders, develop the best plan you can and then spread it to the troops.
You need a plan, but you don’t need a perfect, 10-year plan. Don’t become immobilized by over planning.
By the way, “all-staff” meetings carry an underlying message of overreaction – unless there’s been a public disaster and everyone needs to see the leader calmly, energetically and resolutely explaining the plan for dealing with the situation.
Otherwise, have the manager of each team champion the plan with determination.
Practice courage and strength by taking on challenges and risks. Be capable of rallying yourself from setbacks and handling seemingly overwhelming crises, or let someone else lead in the face of adversity.
There is an upside; leaders can also set the tone for the good. Like inherited immunity, calm, vigor and stamina are also catching. When you’re spirited and resolute, you’re testing everyone else. People who continue overreacting have to be weeded out before they infect your workplace.
Single mom Joan didn’t know what to do. Her teenage daughter, Mindy, was often so nasty to her that Joan would shake with rage, and cry with pain and frustration.
Sometimes, Mindy would call Joan names, tell her how much she hated her, tell her that she was ruining her life, tell her to get out of her room and leave her alone, and demand that she never ask about school. Even when Joan cooked Mindy’s favorite meals, Mindy would grab and gulp, and never say “Please” or “Thank you.” Over the phone, Mindy would vent and yell at her mother.
Joan admitted that Mindy had always been that way and she’d always let her get away with it. Sometimes Mindy was sweet, but then, for no apparent reason, she’d blow up and verbally attack her mother.
Joan could never bring herself to do anything “nasty” to her daughter no matter how negative she was.
What could Joan do to stop her daughter’s bullying?
Didn’t want to stoop to Mindy’s level. She believed that if she was kind enough, eventually Mindy would see the light and change. She believed in the Golden Rule.
When Mindy went to college, Joan thought her daughter’s behavior would finally change. But she was wrong. On the phone, Mindy berated Joan even more. When Mindy came home for Thanksgiving, she treated her mother even worse. When Joan suggested that Mindy seek help just in case Mindy was feeling more pressure and stress, and taking it out on her mother, Mindy exploded.
Open a previously unassailable belief system to new data. Joan removed her old definition of “nasty” and replaced it with one that labeled her as being nasty to herself and to the person she hoped Mindy would become, if she continued to let Mindy act nasty to her.
Describe the new tactics. Joan would demand the “magic words” again, just like we do when little kids ask for anything. Mindy would have to say, “Please,” and “Thank you” or she wouldn’t get anything. Demanding and bullying would no longer be rewarded.
Have effective consequences for nasty behavior. Joan would let Mindy show her what consequences were enough, by how much it took for Mindy to change. The first time Mindy yelled at her over the phone, Joan calmly said, I won’t allow anyone to talk to me that way,” and she hung up. Despite her fears, she didn’t call back. Mindy called a few hours later and said, “Don’t you love me?” Then she started yelling at Joan for not calling back. Joan said, “I love you so much, I won’t let you talk to me like that.” And she calmly hung up again.
Be sweet, firm and cheerful as we apply consequences.
Read “cue cards.” Stay firm and calm by pulling out cue cards we’ve prepared and simply read them as we apply consequences.
“If you want something from me, make it enjoyable for me.” When Mindy was nasty, demanding her mother take her to the mall, Joan said, “I won’t be bullied, but I might drive you if you make me like going with you.” Mindy said, “I won’t suck up to you.” Joan sweetly responded, “Then I won’t take you,” and she turned cheerfully and left the room.
Be open to bribery. When Mindy was nasty at Christmas, Joan read a cue card she’d made, “Be nice to me, you may want something from me, like a Christmas present.” Mindy said, “That’s bribery!” Joan sweetly replied, “Yes. I’m glad you understand. I work hard for my money and I spend it only on people who are nice to me.”
Have them act like a guest in our home. Before spring break, Joan told Mindy that she’d packed up all of Mindy’s things into boxes she put in the garage. She was converting Mindy’s room into a guest bedroom. Mindy was welcome to come back as long as she behaved like a nice guest in Joan’s home. Mindy was furious and began to yell, but Joan hung up. Mindy later called back and said she’d act like a guest. Joan was delighted and cheerfully said, “I’m so happy. I hoped you would. That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with you. But you should also have a back-up plan just in case you forget, because I’ll only allow good guests to stay. Three weeks is a long time and you may forget what the standards are and need to have somewhere else to go.”
Pushing the boundaries.
Joan expected Mindy to resist because Mindy had always been able to beat her mother into submission. She’d still think she could do the same.
Joan was prepared and steadfast; she expected Mindy to be nice for a while, then to push the boundaries again. She was right. But this time, when Mindy pushed back a little, Joan immediately and sweetly imposed a consequence.
By the next summer, Mindy was treating Joan well. She was polite, civil and sweet. Joan was glad to have Mindy stay as a guest that summer, as long as Mindy had a job. Joan didn’t collect any money, but she knew that if Mindy got lonely and bored, she’d probably slide back to her old, nasty habits.
When should we start requiring good behavior?
How about, as soon as we can? Of course we respond kindly to angry babies. Of course, the process of teaching them new ways of getting what they want is initially very slow and speeds up the older they get. So it’s really our good sense and close observation of each individual child’s growth and development that must guide us.
But the goal is always clear. “We ask for what we want. But we’ll get what we’re willing to put up with.”
Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller. She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures.
If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame. Amy Chua is an abusive bully.
She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.
“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.” Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
“Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.
What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?
She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet. I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”). If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
There’s almost no joy in their lives. Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise. But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning. There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.
Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost.
This is a great and necessary value. It has made our society the first world. But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.
No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks. She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection. That’s why people take it so personally. Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons. These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.
Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx. She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon. When she grew up she sued him.
A better approach:
Have you observed your children individually and carefully? One approach does not fit them all.
Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own? Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out? This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own? Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you? How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
Character is critical. All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs. What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it. You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.
By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.” In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices. In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her. That’s not the answer either.
All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.
Stopping bullying by toxic parents and grandparents is only one side of the coin. The other side is to stop bullying of parents by adult children who are toxic users and abusers.
I’ll focus on the adult children who:
Make poor decisions and try bully their parents to bail them out time after time.
Still yell at or even hit their middle-aged parents just like they did when they were teenagers.
Extort money from their parents in return for allowing them to see the grandchildren.
I won’t go into the abuse of elderly or senile parents, nor into situations in which the child is disabled or retarded and will need parental care for life.
For parents, this is one of the most heart-wrenching situations; to see that your adult children are:
Still incompetent and failing.
Still trying to manipulate or coerce you, long after they should have become independent and work to get what they want from the world.
Of course we parents think we’re at fault. We can self-bully until we feel guilt and shame. “Where did we go wrong?” And of course those selfish, manipulative children try to increase those feelings so that we’ll continue giving them what they want.
Although it’s now too late to begin when your children were young, getting an idea about what we could have done then might help us now.
Parenting experts for the last generation have falsely assumed and wrongly encouraged people to think that if they kept protecting their immature, irresponsible children from consequences and kept giving them infinite second changes, the children would eventually mature and develop confidence, self-respect and self-esteem. They would become competent and independent adults.
Of course, a few children do change and become responsible when they’re coddled. But this strategy encourages most children to remain weak and needy, expecting to be supported for life if they’re in trouble. The best way to produce spoiled brats (at any age) is to give them what they want.
Instead, you must not let your heart guide your actions. You must let them fail and bear the consequences, no matter how hard. You must keep reminding them that they will need to take care of themselves; they will be dependent on their own judgment and effort. This is not an all-or-none shift. There should be a gradual shift as they pass from elementary school to middle or junior high school.
In a loving and firm way, encourage them to learn how the world works and to do their best, but stop protecting them. I think of that in the same way I think of helping plants get hardy enough to survive in temperate zones – we leave them out longer and longer in chilly nights.
Don’t use the word, “supportive;” it’s too non-specific. Be specific; give them encouragement to work hard and live poor if they can’t do better. But don’t be a friend, don’t be a bank, don’t be a 7-11.
As for the shame and guilt you might feel because the children didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped; give it up. They have free will. By the time they’re adults they make their own choices. Truthfully, how much success did any of us have giving advice to teenagers? They listen to their own drumbeat; just like we did, whether our parents liked it or not.
So what can we do now? The same thing we should have done back then: cut them off economically. Ignore promises; behavior counts. Give your treats to the independent, self-supporting children who don’t need them. Don’t give them to the irresponsible children who depend on and demand them.
Make a family rule: we get together to have a good time, not to straighten each other out, or review our bank balances, or complain, whine or blame. Keep offering fun when you get together. Stop offering advice or money.
Of course, your heart will bleed, but keep that to yourself. Worry, cry and pray in private. Remind them that it’s their lives and they have to succeed on their own.
With the grandchildren, we have two paths. The first is to remain firm and suffer the consequences when they withhold the grandchildren. We all know the truth about blackmail and extortion: bullies raise the price and there will be no end to it. If they deny you access to the grandchildren; write, call, send presents and keep records. You’ll make your case when the grandchildren turn 18.
The second path is to purchase time with your beloved grandchildren in hopes that you can have an effect on them so they won’t turn out like your children did. Expect the price in money and abuse of you to increase with time. Unfortunately, the grandchildren usually learn to hold you up for what they want.
There is no instant and easy cure. Your children have free will. They have chosen and can continue to choose to be weak and irresponsible. You didn’t cause it, although you might have enabled it by giving them too much. They can try to drag you under when they flail around because they think they’re drowning. Don’t let them drag you under.