Are You a Manager or a Parent?




I have, from time to time, asked managers in leadership training classes, “How many of you have seen your staff act like a bunch of children from time to time?”  Nearly every hand goes up and some wry chuckles or outright laughter are heard.


Then the zinger – “Perhaps, if you want your staff to act like adults, it might be a good idea to stop treating them as children.”


Laughter stops.  Sounds of outrage ensue.


But it’s true in the main.  All of us have, I suspect, our moments when we stop being rational, grown-up adults engaged in mature problem solving and conflict resolution to a state where basically we are saying “I have one nerve left and you are getting on it!.”


So you don’t think this could ever describe you?  Perhaps not.  But Tommy Smothers had it right – Mom always liked you best.  And I’m not sure that adults ever completely grow out of sibling rivalry.  Unfortunately some managers not only treat their staff as children, they also promote sibling rivalry among staff.  Have you ever caught yourself doing or saying any of the following?


  • When talking to someone and correcting a mistake, you point (or shake) your finger at them. (b-a-a-a-a-d boy!)
  • When correcting an error, you slow down, enunciate clearly, and use short sentences as if the person was 4. (You are sooooo stupid I have to slow down and bring it down to your level)
  • You find yourself having to constantly mediate conflicts between staff members. (Ma, he’s picking on me.  Make him stop)
  • You promote fierce rivalries and competition among staff members, rewarding those who succeed and ignoring those who are second. (I love winners.  If you are the winner I will love you best)
  • Ignoring inappropriate behaviour by your favourite especially when it harms others in the group. (Oh, he’s just having a bad day)
  • You create (or contribute to) sibling rivalry by praising Johnny to Jimmy especially when they have both been working on the same thing. (Johnny, why can’t you be more like your brother?)
  • It is apparent to everyone in the office that some staff get better treatment – more conversations, more face time, more smiles (Hey, Jack buddy, how ya doin’?   Hello John!)
  • You spend weekends, or holidays together with one or perhaps two staff members.
  • You engage in “inside jokes” with some during staff meetings. (This is like trying to start a campfire, eh Jack, just like last weekend?)
  • You criticize those who make mistakes but find excuses when your favourite makes an error.  (I’m sure Jack had the best of intentions)
  • Assignments are not based on merit but on personal relationships with you.
  • Some staff get more trips or training than do others.

Children compete for the love and attention of their parents. When one child senses his/ her parents favor another child, the non-favored offspring can develop hatred, jealousy, or anger toward the more favoured child.  Adult workers behave similarly. We all bring our family history to work.  People fight for power, dominance, and attention inside their own little worlds whether that is the world of the family or the world of employment.


For the sake of workplace harmony, try to be a manager and not a parent

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