The Terrible Two-Year-Old Meets the Workplace

The term “terrible two’s” doesn’t seem to quite fit with the age, at least not in my daughter’s case.  My daughter will be 4 at the end of this month, but even with the 2-year age difference, her temper tantrums seem to be worse than ever. When her emotional fuse is lit, it’s time for the duck-and-cover maneuver.

It’s always a struggle to get her to follow directions at this point, but it reminds me of how being a young father sometimes mirrors being a young leader. There are usually valuable lessons to be learned about employees in the work environment in these situations.  My daughter has shown me that partnering and being positive will always produce a better outcome, and the same carries over to the business world.

It used to be that if my daughter had an emotional meltdown, my instinct was to be the demanding, drill sergeant-like father figure.  After all, a child needs discipline!  What’s wrong with instructing your child to give you 20 pushups and run a lap?  I’m being sarcastic, of course, but I still “demanded” my daughter listen to me.  All I was doing was throwing gasoline on the fire, and the ear-piercing screams would grow louder.

It’s similar in the work environment.  Let’s say you have an employee who reports to you, and lately this employee isn’t performing up-to-standards.  When confronting this employee about their current behavior, what kind of reaction would you get if you “demand” the employee shape up or ship out?  I bet you’ll be checking your car later making sure it wasn’t keyed…There’s a better solution for this.

When my daughter’s face turns as red as a tomato and the tears begin, I now take a different approach.  I ask her why’s she’s upset to draw out her reason for the meltdown.  I tell her it’s ok, I love her, and offer help if the situation calls for it.  For example, if she refuses to clean up her toys, I’ll offer to help her (initially) with the cleanup.  After the cleanup starts, I find I can walk away after a minute and she’ll finish the job.  No tears and no migraines follow.

The same goes for your employees.  You need to draw out the reason(s) for the bad performance, give them an emotional boost through positive dialog with compliments, and find out what type of help they need from you in order to get the desired outcome.  You’ll quickly find that a positive outcome will always follow.

I welcome your comments!  What lessons have children taught you about the work place?

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  1. My son is almost 3 years old and loves to talk. I make it a point to listen to him and let him know I’m hearing everything by restating his key points. The ability to listen and let your people know they’re heard is a must for a good leader, and a good parent. I also make sure to speak to him at his eye level so I’m not speaking “down” to him. I want my son’s respect but not as a result of feeling intimidated. If a boss chooses to “lead” by intimidation, you can usually tell the minute you walk into their office. Their chair will typically sit much higher than yours.

    • Anthony Imperiale
    • April 14th, 2010

    My 3 children, now 4, 6, and 8, have helped me be a better leader in so many respects and continue to do so today. Parenting is such a great training tool for helping us to be better leaders, and yet we often neglect to learn and apply those principles to the work environment. Even though my children want to do things on their own and be independent, they still look up to me as an example, for approval, and to set boundaries. As a leader, my employees want to know they are trusted to complete the task(s) as expected, but the also want know they have someone to go to for help, recognition, and vision.

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