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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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