Organizations aren’t Families and Leaders aren’t Parents
Football players bragged – with misty eyes – that their team felt like a family, after the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII.
Winning impacts perception. Losers are on teams. Winners belong to families.
Describing your organization in “Family” terms seems superior to describing it as a sports team. Both descriptions have pros and cons.
- People and relationships are a priority.
- We care for each other.
- Feelings matter.
- Leadership has a parental tone.
Sports team terms:
- Winning is everything.
- Coaches decide who plays. Players have little say.
- You ride the bench if you don’t perform well.
- Leadership has an authoritarian tone.
Problem of organizations as families:
When kids screw up, parents don’t cut them from the team. Families stick together. Poor performers are still part of the family.
Family style organizations find it difficult to bring up tough issues and wait too long to address poor performance. Feelings run the show.
The issues you can’t discuss limit potential and hinder growth.
Leaders aren’t parents. You want bosses and supervisors who care. But it’s degrading to treat employees like children.
Problem of organizations as sports teams:
Coaches run the show like little gods. In organizational life, people need a voice to feel respected and powerful.
Winning or losing happens quickly. You know in 60 minutes if you won.
Officials call fouls and impose penalties with heartless precision.
Rules run the game. You don’t color outside the lines.
Both metaphors apply to organizational life.
- Care for each other.
- Allow input and flexibility.
- Drive for results passionately.
- Set high standards.
- Build strong relationships.
- Give tough feedback quickly.
- Commit to shared goals.
How is your organization/leadership like a family? Like a sports team?
What are the pros and cons of each metaphor?
Thanks Dan. A really helpful reminder of the value and limitations of metaphors.
How is your organization/leadership like a family? People being together for a long time tend to become family to some extent, you still have groups who have a shield from getting close, developing trust takes time.
Like a sports team? Push for the ultimate get project done on time, day in day out. Turns into survival, some days the game may come to an end, you don’t get a new game! You may have to change careers, life’s challenges can hit you at anytime without warning!
What are the pros and cons of each metaphor?
1.Care for each other.
Great for family formed on love, bad for family formed on hatred!
2.Allow input and flexibility.
Great if you have listening ears, bad if they only see things their way!
3.Drive for results passionately.
To much drive may not work with all children as well as adults, when its workers to much push may cause rebellion, “work steady and smart”!
4.Set high standards.
Be careful not everyone crosses the finish line!
5.Build strong relationships. Hopefully they last a lifetime, unfortunately some people change and leave you behind.
6.Give tough feedback quickly.
You need to think first, quick feedback may not see the entire picture.
7.Commit to shared goals.
Everyone on the same page is great, as long as everyone has equal parts, disenchantment by one could ruin the outcome of the goal.
Thanks for all the insight, Tim. The first thing I thought about was Tender/Tough. We have to watch out not to swing too far in one direction.
Having said that, some situations call for tenderness. Others call for toughness. But it’s best to bring them at the same time.
Doug Conant says be tender with people and tough on standards.
My Father often used the term “tough Love” as we matured, we would get the message! 🙂
Dan, back in my time in the Air Force, we called this ‘the art of giving someone a hug while you have your boot up their backside’. It definitely is a balance.
Really enjoyed the topical discussion today. As you said: there are pros and cons to each style: Family style sounds good unless you’re not Mommy or Daddy’s favorite; Team style sounds good unless you need someone to believe in you just a little longer and put in some extra practice with you so you get your chance to shine. The ideal is a solid structure that allows for diversity…just not diversity that runs amok without objective goals to be reached. Of course that structure and diversity need to keep within your stated values. .
Thanks Mary. You brought the idea of favoritism. That’s powerful.
When you wrote structure, I thought system. Sports teams have systems and game plans. Family style organizations tend to be more organic.
Absolutely. And sports teams and sporting team metaphors are not related to how businesses really work. They are not baseball or hockey teams…
By the same token, many families sometimes seem pretty dysfunctional, so maybe I need to take that back? — add a big grin here —
I often feel your humor in the comments you leave! Thanks Dr. Scott
the problems really start when your organisation is like a family, and that family is more like the Borgias or the Corleones. Ironically both were pretty successful in terms of the business they did, had strong overarching goals and a well-defined set of ethical rules. I’m still not sure I’d want to work for them, though!
Thanks Mitch… Great point! If you have a mafia-family, get out!
Families aren’t necessarily positive experiences for many. In some cases, profoundly negative. To describe your organization as a family can alienate not inspire. Firms are more appropriately communities. Community implies common purpose, mutual support, dynamic leadership and constantly changing composition of people, among other things.
With the breakdown of many traditional community institutions, corporations have a golden opportunity to create a sense of belonging and shared pupose that human beings require as social animals. By modelling community, organizations create great places to belong and exceptional engagement & profits.
Hey Bill, great use of language. Community is safer. It does lack some of the color, but it also lacks some of the baggage.
I think your Reddit share button is broken. It didn’t add your link. Great piece!
Thanks Scott. I was able to get to the login screen. Please let me know if it’s still not working and I’ll send a note to the wordpress folks.
Thanks for the post. I agree with most everything you wrote but today I have to say I disagree slightly. You mention that families focus primarily on feelings versus winning. I would agree that the best families do both. Family should be a place we can be loved and accepted for being ourselves, feelings and all but should also be a place where we are pushed, lovingly and consistently, to be our best, or to “perform”, what the individual and family agrees that means.
So I’m a big proponent of organizations being more like families, just like Berry Wehmiller, a great example of how successful a company can be even when an organization acts and operates like a family.
Thanks Devin. I totally agree. Stereotypes have big limitations. I think some families are great at dealing with tough issues, for example.
In the best world, a family style business is great at caring and ALSO great at confronting tough issues.
Dan, I thoroughly enjoy the insights, every single time. Can I request you to post on how to create and commit to shared goals, when you possibly can. Look forward to your views.
Thanks Deepa. Great topic. One of these days …. . I write spontaneously in the morning. I’ll give that topic some thought.
Excellent & Good Advice. Now if families can behave like winning teams !!!
Great article, great comments! I like the best of both metaphors – as a parent I aspired to have my children being their best, independent, developing, learning, motivated human beings making a difference. I valued each for their differences and their strengths, As a leader my aspirations are similar from and for the people I work with, we work in teams, results and outcomes are drivers, ‘goals’ and celebrating success, the wins along the journey. Both work! Thanks, your insights are always thought provoking Dan.
Thanks Jillian! That’s the genius of “AND.” Don’t choose between either option. Take the best from both.
Such an important reminder – “leaders are not parents.” Employees are adults and need to be treated like adults, not children. Taking a parental attitude creates a dependency mindset, and as you point out, limits their potential.
Thanks Jesse… You hit one of the nail on the head. It feels degrading to think of a leader as a parent. Treat people like adults!
I love that our children are adults. Our relationship is more as equals. They aren’t dependent and I don’t want them to be.
( FLY – EAGLES – FLY )
O N. T H E. R O A D. T O. V I C T O R Y
“Ya just can’t take your wuppin like a man!”
Good job though buddy. I like your style Dan.