Mismanagement the easy way: Act like a parent

Any boss who goes home at the end of a hard workday, muttering about how employees act like children, won't be surprised to learn that parenting skills and management abilities are more or less interchangeable.

That's the point made by former New York Times reporter Ann Crittenden in her book, "If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything," (Gotham Books).

Crittenden interviewed 100 people and found that the best parenting skills -- negotiation, multitasking, mentoring, setting priorities -- translate directly to the workplace. Taking the long view has benefits at both home and the office. Letting children or employees take risks helps them grow. It's important not to play favorites, and to respect each person's individuality.

All very nice. If you're a parent or a manager or both, do yourself a favor and consider Crittenden's thesis. It might make you perform better on all fronts.

However, the advice gathered by the author mostly reflects the lessons learned from good parenting. Bad parenting produces just as many guidelines. Some examples follow.

--Yelling alone will never get peanut butter out of upholstery.

--Conversely, the "silent treatment" rarely works. Kids assume you've dozed off.

--Even a really good juggler occasionally drops a ball. Blaming the bystanders won't keep the rest of the balls in the air.

--The problem with ultimatums such as, "Don't make me stop this car!" is you've got to be willing to actually stop the car.

--Cursing by the parent leads children to believe that tossing around a few cusswords is appropriate. Such locker-room behavior is kind of cute, until the minister stops by to visit.

--You can lead a boy to water, but you can't make him bathe. Not properly, anyway.

--Children will get their revenge, no matter how long it takes. You've got to sleep sometime.

--Want to stifle creativity and playfulness? Say, "Don't be silly."

--Impatience leads to learned helplessness. If you jump in to show your children "the right way" to do a chore, they will forever after do it the wrong way first. They're betting that you'll jump in again, and they won't ever have to do the work.

--Never get drunk in front of your children (or your co-workers). They'll never forget it, and they won't let you forget it, either.

--Gossip will be repeated. A child often will take the gossip directly to the person you were bad-mouthing. So will an employee.

--If you begin a sentence with, "When I was your age . . .", you should expect a certain amount of sighing and eye-rolling.

--If you supply Crayons and blank walls, you've got to expect "artwork."

--Children/employees see through lies, unless the lies are about something they really want to believe in, such as the tooth fairy or cheaper health care coverage. When they inevitably learn the truth, they'll never look at you the same.

--Kids learn by example. If your children see you spending all your time on the sofa, watching TV and drinking beer, they'll end up doing the same, right beside you. And you'll have to buy a bigger sofa.

--Act underappreciated. Tell your children, "You'll miss me when I'm gone." It makes them want you "gone" sooner.

--Spanking hurts your hand a lot more than it hurts the offender's bottom.

--Remember the Soccer Dad Principle: You can be a blustery jerk who demands too much and blames the referee, or you can shout encouragement from the sidelines. Which one gets better results?

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