Raising kids? You've got an edge at work

September 07, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER

DAY CARE at the office never quite took hold. "Take Your Child to Work Day" is fading. And pumping breast milk in the women's lounge will always be awkward.

But parents bring something to work that their childless co-workers do not, and it isn't a SpongeBob SquarePants sandwich holder.

Parents bring a special set of skills to the office, writes author Ann Crittenden, and they are the skills learned by being parents.

"As a business writer, I read all of the management literature," said the author of If You Can Manage Kids, You Can Manage Anything (Gotham Books, 2004, $25.)

"Then, as a new mom, I devoured every baby book. The light went on and I said, `Wait. This looks like the same material.' "

Crittenden let the idea percolate - that baby is in college now - until she attended a Harvard seminar on how to handle difficult people.

"It was one of those three-day seminars that business leaders spend $2,000 to attend," she said. "It was taught by William Ury, who wrote Getting to Yes, probably the best-selling business book of all time.

"And I thought, this is the same stuff you read in parenting books. It was amazing to me that no one had pointed this out before."

So Crittenden has, in a book that includes the stories and observations of more than 100 parents who are also at the top of their professions, politics and business.

She found that there isn't a big difference between the skills and best practices that work at home and at the office.

Among the principles employed by the best parents and the best managers, Crittenden found, are these:

Multi-tasking: One Justice Department official described a typical weekend this way: a soccer game, a birthday party, a National Security Council meeting and grocery shopping.

"Study a top executive's day and it sounds just like the classic busy mother's day," Crittenden said.

People skills: Crittenden said she once interviewed a management trainer who pulled out his leadership-effectiveness training material and she realized that it was based on the Parent Effectiveness Training program.

One of the basic principles of PET, so-called active listening, is important because, Crittenden said, "People deserve to be listened to respectfully whether they are a toddler or a manager."

Recognizing and nurturing capabilities: Parents know about their children what the top executives should know about those under them - that you have to let your children learn from their mistakes; that people are different and you should never compare your children; and you learn your child's strengths, then go with them.

And finally, Crittenden talks about "habits of integrity": "The attitudes a good parent has - perspective, humility, fairness, selflessness and hope - are just what is necessary at work," she said.

But the most important lesson parents bring to the office is an invaluable sense of balance.

"As a parent, you know instinctively that nothing that happens at work will be the end of the world. That only happens when your kid is in trouble."

Crittenden isn't just pointing out amusing similarities with this book. She is hoping to further the kind of integration between home and work that parents, especially mothers, need if they are to stop leaving half of who they are in the office parking lot.

"Women are still pulled in two directions," she said. "The workplace is still fundamentally suspicious of working mothers."

And Crittenden is not simply trumpeting the homespun wisdom parenthood gives a CEO. She is promoting a new kind of diversity, and the creative jumpstart diversity brings to any company.

As one mother and executive put it in the book, "Having kids makes you realize that you really do need people who can say, `Why can't we wear a sock over our head?' "

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