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Leadership, alignment and Little Jonny

Average reading time: 2 minutes 45 seconds

I’m continually struck by the parallels between parenting, leadership and teamwork.

I was having dinner in a restaurant recently with my wife and daughter. We’d been out to see the Christmas lights turned on in our town and for our daughter to write her letter to Santa.

As we waited for our food to arrive, I found myself people-watching. There were two families sitting on a large table next to us, each with two young boys.

The kids were pretty excitable. Leaping from their chairs, shouting at their friends and drawing on their hands. I’m sure you can picture the scene.

Their behaviour was totally understandable. Through the restaurant’s enormous glass windows, they could see a buzz of Christmas activity unfolding before their very eyes; and they’d probably just eaten a bucket-load of sugary treats.

I’m by no means a perfect parent, so this is merely an observation as opposed to any form of judgement.

What struck me was the mixed messages that one of the young boys was getting from his parents. The mum was trying to be firm but kind; attempting to get her son to calm down, just a little, and sit still at the table. The dad was largely oblivious to the havoc his son was creating, when he did notice, he would give an almost encouraging smile.

Eventually mum snapped and raised her voice.

“That’s it, no desert for you! I’ve asked you enough times to sit still and calm down.”

Little Jonny stormed off, all of a metre, and sat sulking on the window-sill right by our table, curled up in a semi-foetal position with his head buried in his hands. (I’ve no idea if he was actually called Jonny by the way.)

Mum was trying to ignore him, despite the fact that every 30 seconds he was looking up to see if his performance was having the desired emotional black-mail effect.

Would mum or dad crack?


So why am I writing about Little Jonny?

It’s an interesting insight into the impact of mixed messages and ill-aligned leadership styles.

As a ‘leadership team’, mum and dad adopted very different approaches to that situation. Mum was saying and doing one thing, whilst dad was doing the complete opposite.

Initially Little Jonny was confused. Mum was telling him to sit still and not shout but dad was smiling at him, almost encouraging him. He was totally confused. What was the right behaviour?

Next, Jonny was frustrated, perhaps angry even.

And eventually he saw an opportunity.

Even to Little Jonny it was clear that mum and dad weren’t aligned. Maybe he could exploit the weakness in their different parenting styles to play the emotional card and get his desert!

Two minutes later, dad did indeed crack. He beckoned Little Jonny over. Jonny then sat on his dad’s lap happily eating a chocolate brownie and ice-cream whilst dad lovingly stroked his hair.

What about you?

Is there are chance that you are leading or creating a team, even an entire organisation, of Little Jonnys?

Does your leadership team consistently present the same message to the entire organisation?

Or, does your team send out mixed messages that create untold confusion and frustration?

Are there visible cracks in the cohesion of your executive team that are allowing some people to pursue their own agenda at the expense of the organisation’s collective goals?

And finally, as a leadership team, are you acting in different ways that fuel a culture of siloed working whereby one team wins, at the expense of another?

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