A couple years ago, I drew my dad’s name for Christmas. What do you get a man who, at 71, has everything he needs and then some? After about 50 years in the same house where we grew up, my parents were starting to downsize. They began sorting through their things and anxiously trying to decide what to part with, and what to keep. I decided that adding more to the pile would not make a good gift.

Instead, I gave him the gift of time, together – a daddy-daughter trip to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and one of the best experiences of my life.

 management principles in effective parenting and leadership teams
Dad and me at The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

I was anxious at first about traveling with dad. We’d never been on a trip, just the two of us. What if we annoyed one another? What if we couldn’t agree on how to spend the day? What if…

It reminded me of a time I switched jobs. I left a comfortable position to take a new role with an organization that would shortly go through an acquisition. I remember leaving my first meeting with the new team thinking, “What have I done? What if we annoy one another? What if we can’t agree on how to spend the day? What if…”

Turns out, the team I had the pleasure of working with was dynamic, energetic, and innovative. So innovative, in fact, that most people so used to traditional marketing and PR in a conservative industry just couldn’t understand the work we were doing. (Although, it produced measurable, positive results for the bottom line and for community engagement). As a team, we spent a lot of time trying to educate and unite the organization around a common way forward to promote their services. Over and over, we focused on educating, engaging, and affirming the work we were doing as a team, and as an organization. Tirelessly, we held our organization’s hand through the thick, stringy web of, “but this is how we’ve always done it.” It was hard work.

We didn’t have a lot of time together as this team (about a year and a half before an organizational change occurred, dissolving our small but mighty crew). I believe one of the reasons we were successful in that time was our team synergy. We worked with a supportive leadership group that allowed us to stop, focus, and take the necessary time we needed to plan thoughtful approaches and campaigns. We worked with intention.

Work teams are like families. In fact, many of us spend more time interacting with people at work than with our own families over time. In any situation where people convene as a team – be it work, play, or crisis – our natural inclination is always to look for the boss, and wait for instruction. I will readily admit that I’ve never liked the word “boss.” Even as a child, its connotation was negative. “You’re not the boss of me!” I’d shout at my sister when she tried to tell me what to do. And really, that’s what bosses do. They hand down directives and instruction. I have found over my 20+ year career that I do better on teams with effective leaders as opposed to bosses. In cases where someone has reported to me, and referred to me as a “boss,” I’ve almost taken offense, and have always taken the opportunity to gently remind them: we’re colleagues, please. Colleagues.

Bosses vs. Colleagues: How to bridge the gap

Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet

L. David Marquet in his book, “Turn the Ship Around,” talks about intent-based leadership, and how organizations that allow people to take control over their own work are more inclined to grow leaders – as opposed to bosses – at all levels. By pushing control and decision-making ability throughout the organization, organizations give people the inclination to take responsibility, so they have the authority to rise to the occasion, even during times of change.

Reflecting back on my relationship with my dad, I realize my parents implored intent-based leadership throughout my childhood, too.  This effort is likely the reason I have a successful relationship with both of my parents and my sisters today.

In our household of three daughters, a mom and dad, and a blue-collar neighborhood and lifestyle, we had room to fail and learn from it. Our parents created a family of leaders, not followers. They gave us choices, they asked our input, and – most impressively – instead of prescribing our daily blueprints and demanding results, they parented three humans with very different personalities and communication styles by creating opportunities for us to interact as a family.

Our parents were bosses sometimes, but for the most part, they pushed control to their daughters, encouraging us to pursue talents and welcome good people into our lives.

How do parenting styles and leadership effectiveness relate?

Dr. Thomas Gordon, author of “Parent Effectiveness Training,” among eight other books about effective leadership, hosts a blog on his Gordon Training International website. In one blog entry by author Heidi Malan about spanking and parenting, Malan talks about how Parent Effectiveness Training helps parents shift from relying solely on power, control, and fear in the parent-child relationship, and encourages them to focus on self-disclosure and communication. The leader of this work team I was on embodied this practice. Input from all team members mattered. All ideas had a place on the whiteboard, even if only for a short time as the team worked through them. Team members didn’t have to be told to contribute; we wanted to, because we had the authority to work to our highest potential. Doors were open. We created time for each other, even in the chaos. We stated our intentions and challenged each other not with authority, but mutual respect.

In his decades of successful research and work in parenting education, Dr. Gordon (also a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee) translated his Parent Effectiveness Training work into Leadership Effectiveness Training as well. The basic principles of L.E.T., are that the traditional leadership model based on control by power restrains individuals from releasing creativity and the constructive capabilities they possess. A more effective approach is a participative leadership model that involves people across the organization in activities traditionally limited to managers (or, what I call bosses). Gordon’s research shows organizations with this approach are more productive and financially successful than companies that continue to use authoritative leadership. Whether you can get behind Marquet’s intent-based leadership messages, or Gordon’s participative leadership principles, the results likely would be the same: groups that are doing meaningful work and pulling the organization along together, because they want to, and believe in it.

Intent-based leadership works for work teams AND families

I have a few ideas on why the trip with my dad was a raging success. Aside from the fact that New Orleans is a place of unparalleled magic, and that any reasonable person would have an ideal time there, dad and I are a lot alike – with many of the same admirable qualities and insecurities. We get each other. That in itself doesn’t make a good team. But the mutual respect we have for each other, thanks to the leadership style my parents used while we were growing up, created the ideal environment where two people with nearly 30 years between them could travel well together. Dad is often the one taking charge. He likes to be in control. But with that, comes anxiety. As my gift to him, I wanted to create an anxiety-free trip where he could just show up, and enjoy the time we had together. As hard as it was for him to let go of the reins, he obliged. But instead of bossing him around, I intended to create the trip with him, and simply lift the burden off him of having to execute the tasks of our mutual decisions. One day, for example, over breakfast, dad threw out the idea of ditching the Jazz Fest and hopping the trolley around the city. Dad, with a last-minute “wing it” idea. Who would have thought? Together, we made it happen, finding a buyer for our tickets that day and making new friends in the process. It turned out to be the best day of the trip.

Whether your team is a family, a work group, a sports team, or just a dad and daughter making the best of their time together, consider practicing intent-based and participative leadership as you encounter new relationships and navigate old ones. I can say from experience, that’s what good teams do for each other.