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Baby Boss: Observations of 5 Leadership Behaviors from Chief Talent Officers … with Kids

From a conversation between Angela Lane and Joe Garbus.

In 2020, we saw examples of leaders rise to the challenge of an uncharted moment: providing vision and direction, creating community, bringing safety and support. As leaders, we learnt a lot. Let's not go back.

Because, as Chief Talent Officers in multiple organizations over too many years, we've seen our share of bad leader behavior over the years. Some of that behavior felt familiar. As parents, we've also seen bad behavior from children. Sometimes, we could be forgiven for confusing the two. Without a doubt, there are certainly archetypes there to be discovered. Let's call these "Baby Boss".

Archetype #1. I'm not listening…

Ever had your child cover his ears, block out your voice and shout "l can't hear you"? Of course, they don't mean they can't hear. They mean they aren't listening. Some bosses just don't listen. They don't listen to subordinates. Some, the ones that feel very powerful, don't even listen to experts. The difference? Your kids don't pretend to listen just before they ignore you.

Remedy? Get baby's attention. Let baby know that it's all about them….no matter the topic. Emphasize that, by listening to you, they make their world better, easier, more predictable. After all, they're so bright.

Archetype #2. It's not my fault.

Kids quickly learn that you avoid trouble by blaming others. The dog, of "the dog ate my homework" fame, knows this too well. Eventually, we grow out of that blaming and mature. We learn to take responsibility. Or do we? Gordon Tredgold, writing in Inc. says, "blaming others instead of being accountable has become part of our culture. It's everywhere. ... and it's very much alive in businesses." We all recognize the Baby Boss that makes a huge mess. Smiles, innocently. Looks up and says, "it's not my fault".

Remedy? Change the baby's diaper. Turns out everyone makes a mess. Sometimes your role as a partner or team member is to deal with the … mess. Clean it up, freshen it up, and move on.

Archetype #3. Ignore it, and it will go away.

Kids have a remarkable ability to close their eyes, hoping that "it" will go away, whatever it is. Not business leaders, surely? Isn't acknowledging and solving problems core to our role? Years ago, Jim Collins distinguished great companies by their ability to confront the uncomfortable facts of business life. Apparently, acknowledging issues was rarer than you'd think. Baby Boss closes his eyes in the hope the problem will go away. And if that fails … see #2 above!

Remedy: Help baby look under the bed and confront the "boogeyman". Turns out he's not real and, consequently, not scary. No problems cannot be fixed, cannot be handled, and cannot be dealt with once they are understood and out in the open.

Archetype #4. It's not fair!

As a parent, you will be familiar with this technique. One child gets to divide the cake, and the other gets the first choice

of the slice. This Soloman-like wisdom has helped many parents, including us, deal with what it means to be "fair". Fairness is complex, especially at work. Results don't always reflect effort. Circumstances or business priorities change. Resources are reallocated. These are facts of business life, and leaders recognize that and take an enterprise perspective ... except for Baby Boss. He stubbornly refuses to get on board or sulks when things don't go his way. Because "it's not fairrrrrrrrr".

Remedy? Double swaddle that baby. Wrap that boss baby up in a nice, tight, cozy, swaddle and then swaddle again. Yes, things are changing. But don't worry. You are secure. So embrace the change. Recognize that it is all going to be ok. It always is.

Archetype #5. It's All About Me!

Maybe there aren't 5 archetypes of Boss Babies. Perhaps it was just a fun idea to play with during weather that makes staying inside a necessity, during a pandemic that means "inside" equals "at home". But if there is anything behind the musings of experienced talent practitioners, perhaps is it this one. As leaders, we are privileged. Organizations work to accommodate our needs. There is a "war for talent" that confirms how very sought after and special we are. And so, like kids, our self-awareness can become distorted, and we can forget that it isn't all about us. Most Leaders aren't Boss Babies, but for those that are, here's the thing. Boss Baby, you aren't exceptional. You are unique, just like everyone else. And it takes a team.


Paradoxically, encourage your leader to be more like kids and less like a boss (baby). The idea that we can learn, as Leaders, from some of the best behaviors of children is a powerful one. Let's learn the right lessons. Kids are resilient. Just look at any four-year-old learning to ride a bike. Kids are inherently creative. See this blanket? It is a tent. And a knight's robe. And a parachute. And kids are inclusive. Watch young kids in a park. They approach one another and ask to play. They don't focus on differences. Coming together is instinctive.

Why not look at the best traits of our kids (and if you don't have them, other people's kids). Let's bring those to work. And let's leave Boss Baby at home.

Angela Lane & Joe Garbus

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are the authors and don't represent the opinions of the great organizations and institutions with whom they are associated.

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