Lead Your Children and Raise Your Employees: The Connection Between Parenting and Leadership in a Public Administraion Setting

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this project was to establish whether a relationship exists between parenting and leadership among public administration professionals. Although there has been considerable research in both fields as independent disciplines, there is minimal information on potential relationships between the two subjects. This is surprising because parents are the first leaders each of us are introduced to in childhood. Similar to leaders, parents must use their experiences as a guide for leading their children, inspire and lead by example, and set clear goals to maintain order within the household. These similarities caused me to ponder the value of parenting in leadership. However, the paucity of published research on this subject leads one to conclude that the role of parenting is historically undervalued as a leadership skill that could be used within the workplace. This study was designed to explore the gap between these two subjects by focusing on the following research question.

"Does a relationship exist between parenting and leadership, especially in a public administration setting?"

In order to answer this question, the study followed a qualitative research model where semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine public administration professionals who were parents. These individuals were selected from the fields of criminal justice, education and social services. Such diverse agencies were chosen in order to include a broad a range of views and perspectives about leadership and parenting while eliminating possible biases which may have occurred if only agencies with similar missions (i.e., all law enforcement) had been selected. In addition, document analysis from questionnaires and other books and web sources were referenced in this research in order to broaden its scope.

Interestingly, the above approach resulted in some very intriguing findings. Female participants were more likely to see a relationship between leadership and parenting than their male counterparts. The culture of an organization weighed heavily in the participant's perspectives about parenting and leadership. Those from the Virginia Department of Education (a more female dominated organization) felt parenting did influence their leadership styles while the majority of subjects from the Bureau of Prisons (a more male dominated agency) did not see a relationship. Stage in life and experience were found to influence competence and clarity in leadership style as well as in recognizing relationships between parenting and leadership. Finally, several of the participants were found to have adopted a situational leadership approach in both their parenting and/or their leadership styles.

The above noted findings have provided some useful information that could be a first step in improving the fields of leadership and parenting by opening new possibilities for understanding the interconnectedness of work and family life. Currently, most researchers study leadership as something that occurs at work and parenting as it takes place in the home. Integrating the two disciplines could be useful in the development of leadership and parenting training courses. It could also help experts in the field of leadership to understand the developmental aspects of how relationships between good leaders and followers grow.

Having a leader that could motivate and empower others may create a more desirable workplace that emphasizes mutual trust and respect. In addition, the heightened sensitivity that attenuates in parents could evolve into a similar instinct in leaders. Just as parents give of themselves to create a child who is a responsible member of society, the leader could learn to give of himself or herself to develop the human capital that are his/her followers. This could create an employee who would mature into a valuable component of an organization. Gaining insight into public administrator's perceptions regarding possible connections between parenting and leadership may contribute to future research on this subject.

Gender, Leadership, Experience, Public Administration, Organizational Culture, Parenting