By Jim Arvantes
Mothers and fathers who regularly practice effective parenting techniques are well equipped to succeed in the professional world based on their skills as parents.
That was one of the major themes to emerge from a presentation given by award-winning journalist, author, lecturer and Cleveland Park resident Ann Crittenden, who spoke about her latest book, If You Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything, during a Tuesday Talk at the Cleveland Park Library on Sept. 24.
“The classic study of what top managers really do all day sounds like a busy mother’s modus operandi,” said Crittenden, who is also the author of the critically acclaimed The Price of Motherhood.
Crittenden referred to Professor Henry Mintzberg’s book, The Nature of Managerial Work, saying the book revealed that “the top people don’t sit in their splendid offices planning long-range strategy and issuing orders from on high.”
“They dash around putting out fires, reacting to crisis, dealing with difficult people, coping with constant interruption,” said Crittenden, a former economics reporter for the New York Times who has also worked for Newsweek and Fortune Magazine.
“As Mintzberg put it, managerial work is characterized by brevity, variety and fragmentation,” she said. “What does this sound like – breakfast time on a school morning.”
The New York Times named The Price of Motherhood one of its notable books of 2001. People Magazine featured and praised her latest book, If You Have Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything, giving the book worldwide recognition. (Crittenden had a stack of If You Have Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything on sale after her presentation and the book quickly sold out.)
Crittenden pointed out that some of the best-selling management books draw on lessons from Winnie the Pooh, whale trainers, mice looking for their cheese, the writings of Shakespeare and Jesus Christ, among others.
“But not one book about the lessons you learned from being a parent,” she said.
Parenting = Good management
Crittenden’s own ‘aha moment’ occurred soon after her son James was born in 1982. Like many new parents, Crittenden knew little about children, but as a good journalist, she quickly started reading books on child development, child rearing and child psychology. She was immediately struck by the similarities between those books and the management literature, which she knows well.
“It looked like the same material, and I began to wonder if that was the case,” she said. “Different packaging for different audiences but the same lessons.”
Interestingly, Brian Baxter, the former president of Baxter Books in South Minneapolis, Minn., said that when customers came into the store asking for the best business book, he directed them to the children’s section and the Little Engine That Could.
“Remember what the little train said, ‘I think I can. I think I can. I think I can,’” said Crittenden.
Crittenden interviewed more than 100 successful women and men for If You Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything, speaking to a wide range of parents, including chief executive officers, politicians, lawyers, diplomats, academics and Hollywood producers.
Her list of interviewees included six of Fortune Magazine’s top 50 women in business and the top woman in the American labor movement. Woman made up most of the interviewees because they tend to be the caregivers.
“I asked these people what they had learned, and it was really revelatory,” Crittenden said. “Much deeper and richer than I had imagined.”
Crittenden divided effective parenting skills into four distinct but broad categories:
- Interpersonal skills
- The ability to motivate and inspire people to do their very best.
- Acquiring a certain mindset or perspective that has a positive effect on one’s professional life.
She described each of the four categories in detail, using anecdotes to illustrate her points. Crittenden said multitasking “involves much, much more than juggling a dozen things at once.”
“It applies the ability to focus amid constant distraction – to keep your eye on the ball while you are in the eye of a hurricane,” she said.
Crittenden’s best example of multitasking came from former Congresswomen Connie Morella, (R-Md.), who represented Maryland’s 8th congressional district in Congress, which includes Montgomery County.
Morella raised nine children, three of her own and six of a deceased sister. Morella summarized her multi-tasking strategy as “don’t sweat the small stuff” while adhering to the four Ds:
- Don’t do it unless it is really necessary.
- Dovetail it – do as many tasks at the same time as you possible can.
- Delegate it – remember you are not the only one who can do this.
- Delay and maybe it will go away.
Morella required her children to do their own laundry when they reached a certain age. The kids complied to an extent, washing and drying their clothes but failing to iron their garments before putting them in a basket. The basket grew bigger and bigger as the weeks passed, and finally Morella called a charity to take the clothes away and no one noticed, Crittenden said as the audience laughed.
Crittenden identified “listening respectfully” as one of the most important tools under the category of interpersonal people skills.
“If any of you have read these baby books, they really stress listening respectfully,” she said.
The late former governor of Texas, Ann Richards, raised four children before going into politics. The Democratic governor told Crittenden that the main thing she learned from her family “was never let anyone leave the table without feeling they have been heard.”
“We all know how important that is in politics,” said Crittenden.
The art of negotiation also falls under the rubric of interpersonal skills.
“Modern parenting and modern management both involve unending negotiations,” Crittenden said. “Many, many people told me that negotiating with grownups was child’s play compared to dealing with kids.”
A high-level defense department official in the administration of Ronald Reagan confided that negotiating with his teenage daughter taught him more about how to deal with the Soviets than any other training he had.
“After years of dealing with ‘why can’t I stay up late?’ ‘Why can’t I go to that movie?’ ‘Why can’t I have the car?’ Talking about the ABM treaty with a grown up in Geneva was relatively easy,” the official said.
Anita Roddick, the late founder of the cosmetics company, The Body Shop, reportedly said, “Any mother who has dealt with two kids and one piece of candy can negotiate any contract in the world.”
“The formula, by the way, with candy or cookies is to let one child divide the cookie in two and let the other child pick the first piece,” said Crittenden, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. “I got that from a female politician in New York.”
When talking about the third category of effective parenting skills – the ability to motivate and inspire people to do their very best – Crittenden quoted a senior manager and engineer at Texas Instruments who describes this particular skill as “growing human capabilities.”
“She made the assumption that every human being has an innate desire to succeed, to excel at something, and the job of an effective manager or leader is to encourage that innate drive to be worthy or successful,” Crittenden said.
That requires positive reinforcement, she said.
“Good parents and good managers know that, and they know if they encourage people to believe in themselves this can become a self-fulling prophecy,” said Crittenden.
She described the fourth and final category of effective parenting as maintaining “a sense of perspective.”
“Once you have fallen in love with a child, it is hard to take a crisis in the work place so seriously,” Crittenden said. “You understand that the worst thing that could happen is not what happens at the office. It is if something happens to your child.”
This type of mindset creates an inter certainty that leads to a certain “cool headiness,” enabling employees to function effectively “when things are melting down at work,” said Crittenden.
Enlightened Parent Model
In talking to her audience, Crittenden posed a few rhetorical questions, asking, for example, what the enlightened parent model of leadership “has to do with the cold competitive rate race where bragging about your skills as a parent will get you about as far as bragging about your skills in group sex at a church social in Kansas City?”
The question has particular relevance in the current era where autocrats, authoritarians and dictators throughout the world seem determined to bring back “the old, harsh, coercive top down leadership style,” that does not work well for families or organizations, Crittenden said.
Crittenden is convinced that the enlightened parent model of leadership provides invaluable lessons for both families and organizations, making it worthy of study and emulation.