Great Leadership Is Like Being A Parent

“When we feel safe within an organization we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities. The closest analogy I can give to what a great leader is, is like being a parent. ”

A funny thing happens when you become a parent. You lovingly obsess over this new, tiny little creature that has invaded your life and made it more or less unbearable. It keeps you up all hours of the day and night. It prevents you from doing anything that you want to do. It makes you late for everything. If you’re one of those select parents you will even have this creature mature to a point where it flings poo at you for now reason at all. Despite all this, as a father there are a few moments throughout the day when you’re not thinking about being a parent. The love and safety of your child coats over your every fired synapse and twitched muscle. Similarly, in the workplace, or on your team, this is the character of a great leader.

The opening passage analogizing parenting and great leadership comes from a man called Simon Sinek. And you can hear for yourself what he has to say about leadership in his Ted Talk, “Why Leaders Make You Feel Safe.”

Sinek’s talk is fantastic. And my point here is not to regurgitate his message, but rather to accentuate what belies his talk: that creating safety, having love, being a leader consists of small, consistent acts. It is, as the marine platoon leader would do, eating only after all your men have eaten. It is, as Bob Chapman from Bary-Wehmiller would not do, which is instituting furloughs as opposed to laying off his people. It is, as a parent would do, reading the same book for the 7000th time.

The parent’s obsession does not in and of itself make for a great leader. For it is not the compulsive thinking that makes a great leader or a parent. It is the constant small acts. It is the doing.

I have written many times about this concept, including on this blog and in my recent book, Parent Win, that small acts performed well, repeatedly and over time, are the foundation for excellence.

It is in the small things that a great leader is made. It is the small things that makes a great parent. Here again is Sinek talking about a small act of love being performed on the battle field by a leader, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Captain William Swinson:

“…one of the medivac medics happened to have a GoPro camera on his helmet and captured this whole scene on camera. It shows Captain Swinson and his comrade bringing this wounded soldier, who had received a gunshot to the neck. They put him in the helicopter, and then you see Captain Swinson bend over and give him a kiss before he turns around to rescue more. I saw this, and I thought to myself, where do people like that come from? What is that? That is some deep, deep emotion when you would want to do that. There’s a love there, and I wanted to know why it is that I don’t have people that I work with like that.”


What is remarkable is, of course, Captain Swinson’s bravery and valor. But what is moving is his small act. A kiss. He is dodging mortal danger. And in the face of it he pauses to comfort, to love, showing his comrade: You are safe from harm. Whatever fate may bring, you have love. You are loved.

Sinek goes on to argue that true leadership is providing this type of safety to those around you, those in your company, those in your group. That if a leader is not putting his people before him, then she is in fact not a leader. Simply someone with a title, authority. But let’s not let go of Captain Swinson here.


Think about the context of this small act. Bullets ricocheting off medal. Doom all around…except for inside that moment. A kiss. Safety. Love.

I saw this video recently. It reminded me of the potential that we all have to be great everyday. Who amongst us – sans bullets, doom far away – hasn’t time for an actual or metaphoric kiss? It illustrated for me how we all have the potential to lead, should we choose. It painted a picture for me the makeup of a safe, loving environment that we don’t have to wait for other “authorities” or “leaders” to create for us.

Here again is Sinek, one more time, talking about the environments we create based on rewarding sacrifice, and why certain people make certain sacrifices:


In the military they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain. We have it backwards. Right? So I asked myself, where do people like this come from? And my initial conclusion was that they’re just better people. That’s why they’re attracted to the military. These better people are attracted to this concept of service. But that’s completely wrong. What I learned is that it’s the environment. And if you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do these remarkable things, and more importantly, others have that capacity too.


In business the workplace environment may be called “company culture” in our personal lives our shared environment is called our “home”. If you are performing small acts that lead to a safe, loving environment (or a toxic, hateful one) this is how you lead.

Greatness, your potential for being remarkable, awaits you in the small acts you choose to make.  “Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.” Leadership – like parenting – is in the doing. It is in your small acts of love.

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