A Parenting Class Made Me A Better Manager (and Parent)

MarcilieLeadership, Parenting and Management, Parenting w/Positive DisciplineLeave a Comment

Adam and Family

I’m pleased to share this message from guest-blogger Adam Fishman, a participant in my parenting classes, and VP of Growth Marketing @Patreon.

  A brief moment of calm in between the chaos.

“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse?”  — Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline

Several months ago, I felt like I was failing as a parent. My three-year-old daughter was developing into a little Napoleon (as three-year-olds are want to do) and I couldn’t get her to join me in accomplishing the day’s smallest tasks. Get out of bed in the morning? Nope. Not for Daddy. Put on three, two or even one article(s) of clothing? Nope. Sorry Dad. Eat breakfast? No. Put on shoes? No. Climb into a carseat? No. Pick up a toy? Yes… oh wait, no.

Until you have kids you don’t realize how many seemingly small activities or decisions there are in a day. But when you’re navigating the world with children (we have two — a 3.5 yr old and a 15 month old), it becomes quite apparent that THERE ARE A LOT OF THEM. Not only that, but my daughter didn’t want to do any of them with me.

I’d learned at some point that you should provide your child with choices that lead to an acceptable outcome. “Would you like to put on your red pants or your blue pants?” See what I did there? You’re letting your child make the decision AND either decision results in pants going onto a toddler-sized body. This “choices” tool was the shiniest tool in my parenting toolbox. It was also the only tool. And when it regularly didn’t work, I would harken back to the parenting toolbox that my own parents used during my childhood.

I did this, like so many other parents, because it’s familiar and comfortable. I don’t like that toolbox. It frequently involved getting frustrated, yelling, rewards, threats, unrelated punishments and illogical consequences (“If you don’t put on your pants, then you can’t watch your show.” Um… what?). I didn’t want those things in my parenting toolbox, but I saw how easy it was to have them end up in there and I didn’t know what to do about it. It was especially frustrating to me because my wife could stroll in like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, play her flute, and an army of three-year-olds from around the neighborhood would all put on their blue pants simultaneously. I just didn’t have the same flute. This parenting stuff is hard.

Around the same time I was feeling all of this parental failure, I received an email from our daughter’s pre-school about a parenting class focused on Jane Nelsen’s principles of Positive Discipline. Good timing. I had one of her books on the topic, but like so many other parenting books we own it was skimmed, placed on the bookshelf and promptly forgotten. I like independent learning. I have picked up a lot of skills over the years from reading and practicing what I’ve read, but I also knew for something like parenting I might need a more reliable approach. That, and I love classroom learning! I also thought opportunity to commiserate with some other parents would be great. So I signed up. I attended, listened, questioned, role-played, and workshopped with the other parents and grandparents. And damn… I added a lot more tools to my toolbox.

BUT, this is about how my parenting class made me a better manager… so let’s get on with that.

There is an unending torrent of information (28.4 million results on Google to be precise) on how to be a better manager. But you know what dwarfs that number? How to be a better parent.

Here are five specific tools that I learned and developed in parenting class which help me as a manager every single day.

Tool #1: Be kind, but firm

The Positive Discipline school of parenting teaches the notion of being kind, but firm at the same time. Some parents are kind, but not firm. Others are firm, but not kind. And sometimes we waffle back and forth. As a parent, if you’ve ever shouted at your kid and then gone in the other room and cried, you’ll know exactly what this means.

This can be true of managers as well — Managers who are too kind always rush to fix a problem for their team members and those who are too firm will yell, or single out bad performance publicly because “that’s the only way they’ll learn to do it better next time.” I’ve experienced all types of managers and the one that I strive to be promotes kindness and firmness at the same time.

    • Allowing team members to experience failure: “That project didn’t achieve the results we wanted; what are your ideas for what we could do differently next time to get the results we want?”
    • Saying “no” to a project idea: “I know you really want to do X, Y, Z. I think they’re exciting too! But would you agree that they’re not in line with our priorities for the quarter? Which projects do you have that are in line with those priorities?”
  • Being empathetic, but not attempting to solve: “I see you’re really disappointed in the outcome of this project.” Stop here and let them figure out their own course of action without prompting.

Tool #2: PESOS

PESOS is a problem-solving tool for working with kids that can be effective from a young age through teenage years (and likely beyond). It stands for Permission, Empathize, State your concern, Options, and Select an option. I was introduced to this tool by Marcilie Smith Boyle’s Positive Discipline class — she invented it and it’s incredible.

Step 1: Permission

Get permission from the person you’d like to talk to — this gets them engaged in the conversation and keeps them from feeling caught off guard or defensive. It establishes that you’d like their attention and lets them know that they have yours.

Parents: put down your phone and get down to your child’s level. Make eye contact.

Managers: schedule a meeting or address them privately, shut your laptop and put down your phone. Make eye contact.

As a parent of a 3-year old:

I’d like to talk to you, could you look at me with your eyes and your whole body?

As a manager:

I’d like to talk to you about your project, is that okay?

Both requests are fairly similar and it will lead to starting the conversation off on the right foot.

Step 2: Empathize (and seek more information)

Sometimes you just gotta look up the definition of empathy.

Once you have their permission it’s time to show empathy. This let’s the team member (or pre-schooler) know that you care about what they’re feeling. It takes on different forms when you’re dealing with a child vs. a team member. In both cases it opens up an opportunity for the (little) person to tell you what is really going on. Sometimes learning what’s causing the behavior will come as a complete surprise.

As a parent of a 3-year old:

I noticed that you’ve been getting out of bed after we say goodnight. What’s up?

As a manager:

I noticed that you haven’t been updating your reporting and metrics at the time we agreed on. What’s up?

Starting with “I’ve noticed that…” or “It seems that…” and ending with an open-ended question should elicit some feedback from your child or team member. In both cases, the best thing you can do after asking “what’s up” is to shut up and listen.

Step 3: State your concern

Our instinct after listening is to rush to a solution — or, to put it more bluntly, to offer YOUR solution — but we haven’t reached the solution step yet. Instead, after listening to their “what’s up” response, you should calmly state the behavior as you see it and why it’s a problem for you.

As a parent of a 3-year-old:

When you get out of bed after we say goodnight it makes it harder for Dad to do his chores for the day so that he can go to bed at his bed time.

As a manager:

I care about getting the best possible results for our team. When you don’t update your reporting and metrics at the time we agreed upon it means I can’t help you prioritize your workload and we may not end up working on the most impactful projects.

At this point, you’ve stated in very plain terms why this situation or behavior is a problem for you, and it may be the first time they are realizing there was an issue. You’ve also provided them with transparency into the way this problem is affecting you.

Step 4: Options

By this step, you‘ve gotten permission to discuss an issue, listened to the underlying reasons causing the issue, stated your feelings on the matter and why it’s important to resolve it. You’re now ready to brainstorm options (solutions) with your child or team member. This part can be challenging with young kids but is important in all scenarios — you want a lot of ideas here, and you’ll know when it’s time to stop.

As a parent of a 3-year-old:

You said that you get out of bed because you’re afraid of the dark. What could we do to make the dark less scary?

Often times with really young children they won’t have any ideas or will say some crazy things like “EAT CANDY.” You should acknowledge their suggestions, write them down, and supplement with your own.

Oh, that’s one idea. What about if we got a nightlight to make your room a little brighter?

As a manager:

You said that you’re not updating your reporting and metrics on time because you get busy and forget. What might help you remember?

The temptation here is to judge or dismiss the options as unworkable, but try hard not to pass judgment and instead build and expand upon each other’s ideas. At the end of this step you should have a list of several different options to try.

Step 5 (Final Step): Select an option to try

The last step is to select an option that is workable for both of you. This should be as simple as asking your child or team member:

Which one of these ideas would you like to try?

Together, you’ll agree on the solution that they choose. Why let them choose? Because they will feel a sense of ownership, accountability, and pride if they have made the decision. For children who are too young to make a good choice from a larger list you can provide two choices and let them decide which one they’d like to try.

To recap this exercise, just remember PESOS: Permission, Empathize, State your concern, discuss Options, and Select an option to try.

Tool #3: Model the right behavior

This one is almost impossible to get right 100% of the time with kids andteam members. The easiest way to think about this is that your child or team member is a mirror of your actions. It flies in the face of the “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” attitude. How many times have we looked at our kids and said, “Stooooppppp whiiiinnnninnnnng” in our most whiny voice? Probably a lot.

According to PBS tips on positive discipline:

Focus on controlling yourself — not your child. It’s hard to keep cool in the heat of the moment, but Dr. Katharine C. Kersey, the author of “The 101s: A Guide to Positive Discipline,” says that parents need to model the types of behavior they want their children to emulate. Remember, yelling begets yelling, hitting begets hitting. “ We should not do anything in front of [our children] that we don’t want them to do,” she advises. In the case of an extreme behavioral flare-up, this may mean counting to 10, taking a deep breath or simply walking away until you’ve had time to collect yourself.

Jim Fay, the founder of the organization Love and Logic, agrees. “Anger and frustration feed misbehavior,” he says. Fay offers an unusual tactic for keeping your voice in check: instead of yelling that your child is doing something wrong, try singing it. Fay teaches parents what he calls the “Uh Oh” song. If a child throws a toy after he’s been asked to stop, you might sing, “Uh Oh, that’s sad you threw your truck again. I think it’s time the truck went away.”

I can’t say I’ve ever sang the “Uh Oh” song in the office, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t done it at home.

For the workplace, it’s essentially leading by example. If you want someone to do something you should demonstrate that you are willing to do it as well. Shrugging off a task because it’s “beneath your level” shouldn’t be your first instinct if you’d like your team members to help with it. Show them that you’re willing to do the work and they will too. At Patreon this is one of our 8 Core Behaviors: Just Fix It.

Tool #4: Focus on effort vs. results

This is something I learned as part of my positive discipline class, but it was actually popularized by Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck. It’s incredibly important in childhood development AND in the workplace — especially on high velocity, highly experimental growth teams. To understand the most basic premise of her thesis you should consider this question:

‘What makes a really capable child give up in the face of failure, where other children may be motivated by the failure?’”

It turns out that the the answer to this question is based on how they perceive failure which is influenced by how their caregivers (parents, teachers, etc.) treat success and failure.

Here are two statements, one praising results and the other effort:


Great job getting an A on that math test. You’re the smartest kid in the class.

That new feature is awesome. It totally transformed our business. You’re the best engineer ever.


You studied so hard to get an A on that math test. Looks like your hard work really paid off.

Wow. I can’t believe how hard you worked on developing that feature. You set an example for all of us.

In the moment, one of those statements actually feels better for the person receiving it: the results statement. But it’s the effort statement that builds resiliency and fosters learning goals which contribute to a growth mindset. And we know according to this article and this article:

When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation.

The main problem with a results-only oriented focus is what in the hell are you supposed to say when someone doesn’t get the A on the math test or that feature doesn’t deliver the expected results? In an efforts-based approach, this is much easier:

I’m sorry you didn’t get the grade you wanted on that math test. I saw how hard you worked studying for it. Let’s do a few more problems to keep learning.

You worked really hard on that feature. What else could we do to make it perform better for our customers?

You can see where this is going with respect to the workplace. We want happy, collaborating, innovative employees at Patreon. People with a growth mindset. The way you get a growth mindset is to seek learning continuously (another core behavior) and the way you encourage that is by focusing on a person’s effort. As long as you’re prioritizing the right things, focusing on effort can actually drive better results for all the above reasons.

On my teams at work, we focus on incremental learnings from week to week. That’s the most important thing we can do for creators, patrons, and Patreon as a whole. What did we learn about our audience and customers? Our process? A new channel or project? Ourselves? You don’t have to be the best, but you do have to strive for continuous improvement and learning.

Tool #5: Relax and enjoy the journey

This last tool was something I struggled with for a really long time and sometimes still struggle with. The realization I came to after taking a Positive Discipline class was that as a parent you are constantly making mistakes. You’re not modeling the right behavior, you’re focusing on results over effort, you’re not empathizing, or you’re being too kind or too firm but not both. This happens to me as a manager as well. I have a long way to go in both parenthood and in my career (shit, my kids are still a decade away from the teenage years!) and I’ve learned that as a normal, flawed human being sometimes you just need to CHILL THE F@&K OUT, enjoy the journey and not take yourself too seriously.

My team letting me know that I have too many Post-It notes at my desk.

Want to work with Adam and the team at Patreon? We’re hiring!

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