It’s Not Just For Kids


The very best parenting manuals translate to other aspects of life, as well.

In her classic parenting guide, Positive Discipline, Jane Nelson asks, “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse?” It does sound crazy when she puts it like this, doesn’t it? But this belief is at the core of a discipline strategy that depends on punishments, blaming, and shaming to stop undesired behavior rather than trying to address the cause of the behavior. Meanwhile, my own experience tells me that feeling good usually brings out my best. And feeling guilty, anxious, or unworthy? Not so much …

Nelsen’s strategies acknowledge a child’s emotions, respect the child, and engage the child’s problem-solving skills and autonomy.

Now, substitute the word “employee” for “child” above and you might see the same advice in a management text. And since I am reading this book on the heels of Dan Pink’s Drive, I am struck by the similarity between Nelsen’s analysis of punishments and rewards (the former of which create anger, deception, and rebellion, and the latter of which teach kids to seek outside approval rather than creating self-worth) and Pink’s discussion of the use of carrots and sticks in the workplace (extrinsic motivation). Both Nelsen and Pink conclude that tapping into the subject’s intrinsic motivation works better over the long haul.

We like to think that maturity has transformed us from the irrational creatures we were as children. And it has, to a great extent. But really, though we have been socialized to behave better, many of our emotional needs and motivations remain. The sooner we all learn to acknowledge the emotions of those around us and to manage our own emotions, the better off we’ll all be.

p.s. Some management texts make good parenting manuals as well. The husband of one of my mom pals had always been skeptical about positive discipline until he was required to read Dan Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence for a leadership seminar at work. Now he’s on board with the parenting techniques that she has been urging for years.