Posts Tagged ‘discipline’

After several hours of a rough morning with the monkeys, I found myself threatening thus: “I’m going to call your father.” To which the monkeys literally responded: “Why?”

And really, I’m not sure why I said it. They’re not afraid of him, and really, he was working at a cafe. What was he going to do?

I must have gotten it from my mom, who would routinely make the same threat. While it might have been somewhat more effective, because my dad was much more removed from the day-to-day  parenting than Mr. Daddy is, it couldn’t have really been that effective. After all, in the house where I grew up, my dad was the softie and my mom was the disciplinarian. It’s a good bet that had my mom called my dad, he would have been as likely to brush her off or talk her down from her anger as he would have been to punish me.

I can only guess that my mom was doing the same thing I was, using a threat that her mom used. And from what I know about my grandmother and grandfather, I’m guessing that the ‘I’m going to call your father’ threat was actually effective three generations ago. I think my grandfather could be pretty scary when he wanted to be.

This kind of passing on of tactics from one generation to another doesn’t just happen in households, it happens in offices, too. Just as I learned how to parent – both how to parent well and how to parent less well – from my own parents, I learned how to manage and lead from those people who have managed and led me. And I’ve got to say, I think I’ve had better role models in the house than in the office.

Either way, though, it’s really easy to find yourself parroting a voice that you heard long ago. We think of legacy systems as technology or organizational structure, but there are implicit ‘systems’ of leading and managing that get passed on in organizations, too.

As a parent, I feel like it’s my job to make sure that the monkeys don’t resort to an ‘I’m going to call your mother,’ when they’re trying to wrangle their kids. And I think most parents are already pretty concious about not repeating what we see as our parent’s mistakes. As a leader, I feel like I need make sure that I’m equally concious of not repeating the mistakes of mediocre or bad leaders or managers that I’ve encountered during my career.


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I make my living by identifying patterns. Whether it’s making sense of consumer needs, looking at what’s going on in the world of commerce to identify trends or opportunities, or helping a colleague get better at what they do, it all follows a similar logic: These are some things we’ve seen a few times. Here’s how they’re related. Here’s what it means. And here’s what you can do about it.

So it’s no surprise that I find patterns in other aspects in my life, too. I’ve been traveling like crazy for a few weeks. I kind of hate it. My natural instinct is to to see the pattern: I’m on a plane very frequently. My job requires lots of travel. I don’t like traveling this much, so I must not like my job. I should probably quit. That was last week.

Today’s ‘pattern’ was different. At about 6 PM, right before dinner, both boys totally lost it, in different ways. So this was the pattern: My kids are making me crazy. I’m not handling it that well. I’m not a good mom. Maybe I should travel more often.

When you’re accustomed to looking for patterns, you find them everywhere. Even when what you’re seeing isn’t really a pattern, it’s just a coincidence of events. On the travel issue, yes, sometimes I travel too much for my job. But often I don’t. So which is the pattern and which is breaking the pattern? With my kids, sometimes they lose it and I don’t handle it very well. But most of the time we’re together, we have a great time. And most of the time we encounter problems, I get through them pretty well. So which is the pattern?

I’ve fallen into a pattern of seeing patterns. Sounds kinda silly, doesn’t it. When I’m working with clients, or with colleagues, I have folks to keep me honest. Knowing that I have an audience to prove my patterns to keeps me honest abotu when it really exists and when it doesn’t. With no clients at home (not a bad thing at all) I I need to work on reminding myself to be more rigorous in pattern identification. I don’t want to jump to the final conclusion, here’s what I should do about it, if it’s really an instance and not a pattern.

Excellent picture from this site.

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Last week we were living in Whine Country. All week the monkeys were super whiny, and they’d freak out over basic issues.


One day they came home from school bawling. I sat with them on the couch and tried to talk to them about what happened. “Daddy ripped my fig bar,” was all I could get out of them. Later I learned that Mr. Daddy was trying to get them to share the one bar they had left over from lunch. And they didn’t want to share it. So they cried the whole way home from school. Both of them.


By Thursday I’d pretty much had it. After powering through bedtime, I sat down at the computer and Googled ‘whiny tantrum three year olds.’ No surprise, a number of sites had suggestions.


After reading a few, I started to get annoyed. Here I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the monkeys, and all the online resources were about how I could behave differently. This annoyed me. After all, I’m not whiny. Why did I have to change (ok, so maybe I’m a little whiny.) But really, this was about them, not me.


After reading about 100 posts recommending me to just say ‘I can’t hear you when you whine,’ I found one that made sense. Yes, it involved saying ‘I can’t hear you when you whine,’ but it surrounded that tidbit with a bit more context.


Kids don’t whine to be annoying, it said, they whine to get what they want. If you give them what they want, they’ll continue to whine. It reminded me to not get angry or frustrated. To try a tactic for a couple of weeks before giving up on it. And to make sure I’m specific about both the behaviors I want to get rid of and those that I want to encourage. Finally, it reminded me that I need to be constantly praising them when they talk in an appropriate tone of voice.


I printed out the page and talked the strategy out with Mr. Daddy. We agreed to try it the next day. On Friday we spent the day together, going out for pancakes, to the zoo, to the park, and to an art show at the preschool. We had a great day. And we were able to keep a handle on the whining, even when the monkeys were tired.


By Saturday night, we’d noticed a big change. Despite a night of throwing up and tummy aches the boys had both been whining less and were starting to be fun to hang out with again.


My reaction to all the parenting advice I’d been reading was not unlike the reaction some managers have when they’re trying to get their people to improve. When your people aren’t performing up to your standards, you start to wonder what’s wrong with them. And you forget that at least in part, their behavior is a reaction to the conditions that you set up with them.


You can’t, as many people recommend online, just say ‘I can’t hear you when you whine’ and expect behavior to change. You have to set the conditions for the behavior to change, and constantly reinforce new behavior.


And even though it’s your people who aren’t performing, not you, the only behaviors that you really have the power to change are your own. As a leader, your role in the situation is similar to that of a parent. If you want a different outcome, you have change the things that you do to set the conditions for that new outcome to occur.

It’s not rocket science. But it can transport you to an entirely new universe.





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I’ve read First, Break All the Rules. I’ve taken the Strengthsfinder test twice, and the only strength I had in common each time was individualization. There are a lot of places where I don’t shine as a manager and a leader, but one thing that I naturally do well is get to know the people I’m working with to understand what they need from me. Armed with that information, I work differently with different people.

So why has it taken me this long to realize that the monkeys need different types of discipline?

Monkey #1 is sensitive and empathic. When he wants to get my attention, he hugs me, tells me that he loves me, or goes really whiny. For the most part, he’ll listen when I just ask him to behave. When he doesn’t, he seems to need second chances.

Monkey #2 is tougher. He’s a boundary pusher. He’s that typical kid in the playground who, when he likes a girl, will pull her pigtails. He needs to be told as soon as possible that what he’s doing is wrong, and get a swift time out. Otherwise he gets too attached to whatever he’s doing to stop. Once his misbehavior escalates,  his response to any discipline is a tantrum.

I guess I’ve always known that different kids need different kinds of discipline. But putting that principle into action is difficult. For one thing, they’re twins. I’m used to the same thing working for both of them. Another issue is that unlike with adults, changing the way I behave with different kids seems unfair. They don’t really get why I’m doing it, and even if I tried, I couldn’t explain it to them. It also seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom that what kids need most is consistency.

Does it work if you consistently individualize? Guess I’ll find out soon enough.

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I pretty much stopped reading books about parenting after the first year of the monkeys’ lives. In part, I stopped reading because I was less desperate for help. In part, I stopped because I finally realized that there was no answer in any book that would really help me figure out my kids and figure out how to be the best parent I could. Those answers, I realized, had to come from me, my kids, my husband, and our relationships. Otherwise they wouldn’t work.

On one visit to Atlanta, though, my mom gave me a book,  Scream Free Parenting, written by  Hal Runkel, who she had seen speak at her synagogue. I read it because she asked me to, and was rewarded with one pearl of wisdom: we can’t always control our kid’s behavior but we can always control our reaction to their behavior.

I’m pretty sure this is something that’s covered in therapy 101, but it’s a useful reminder for me as a parent. It’s also a useful reminder for me as a leader, a manager, and an employee at work. We all encounter situations where we think that the folks we’re working with are acting badly, acting out, or just acting stupid. And sometimes, we want to act out too, in response to them.

It makes sense that if we scream at our kids in response to their screaming and whining, we’re not actually helping the situation, we’re modeling bad behavior. Likewise, if someone overreacts to something you’ve done at work, overreacting to their reaction isn’t going to help. In fact, it’s going to make things worse. Instead, try to do what you do with your kids: take a deep breath, take a moment, and respond as calmly and reasonably as you can. At the very least, you’ll feel better about your role in the situation. The best case scenario is that you calm down the other person, too, paving the way for a more rational, direct conversation.

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At our company retreat the other day, I was doing some thinking about how I can grow in the next year and came up with the idea that I should be more authoritative. I am one of the leaders of my company, and while I think my leadership has impact in small group settings, I’d like to amp up my impact in larger group settings and with people who are meeting me for the first time.

After I shared my goals with my team, a colleague approached me and told me that he didn’t think I should try to be more authoritative at all. In fact, he said, he really liked my leadership style, which comes across as supportive and directive, but not bossy, enabling others to grow around me. It was nice to hear, and I think he’s right in that I shouldn’t try to change my style with small groups as I try to have more impact on large ones.

I was thinking about all this today as I was hanging out with my kids at bath time, counting down from 3 to 1 and insisting that they stop doing…something. I don’t even remember what it was and it was only about an hour ago. It just blurs with all of the other things I was on them about today: not hitting each other, not stepping on me, not whining to get what they want, not grabbing toys, not rattling the delicate banister, not, not, not.

What struck me is that it’s much harder to strike the right balance between authoritative and supportive with my kids then it is at work. That’s partly because the folks I work with don’t ever turn their bodies into noodles and droop onto the floor in public to avoid following directions, or run away from me giggling and covering their eyes when I’m trying to talk to them. But even when they don’t always act like professional adults, and I can usually manage to be one.

Unfortunately, I think I get sucked into the games my kids play with me, and react accordingly. I’m going to try to see if there are things I do at work that I can bring to leading my kids with more ease and less dominance. And perhaps, there are ways that I command my kids that I can translate into large group settings to project a more powerful presence. I wonder how a client would take to hearing, “I’m going to count down from 3 to 1, and if you’re still beating that dead horse, then…”

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