Counsel in Private: A Lesson in Parental Leadership

Praise in public and counsel in privateSigh…I’m the parent of two teenaged daughters.  Anyone in a similar position understands well the sigh.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy being a parent (I actually love it), but it’s the all too stereotypical interactions I have with them from time to time that drives me crazy.

“I wish you’d just leave me alone,” my youngest blurted out the other day, along with, “Why am I always the one getting yelled at?”

First of all, I rarely yell, but I recognize that even a disapproving tone is frequently perceived in teen drama as “yelling.”  And second of all, she’s certainly not the only one lectured, scolded, or who suffers consequences.  In fact, it’s a refrain I hear too frequently from both my girls.  Why doesn’t my sister ever get in trouble?

Praise in public.  Counsel in private.

From the earliest of my own leadership experiences, as a junior non-commissioned officer in the military, this tenet was drilled into me.  I’d like to say that of all the leadership traits I’ve developed over the years, it’s one that I’ve mastered, although likely to a greater extent in my professional life than in my parental role.  But although I don’t always succeed, I do attempt to apply it in both realms.

The result?  Well, with luck neither of my daughters is particularly aware when I have disciplinary discussions with the other.  When assignments aren’t turned in, grades aren’t up to snuff, or when other expectations aren’t achieved, I tend not to raise the issues at the dinner table, in front of the entire family.  No, those are conversations more frequently held in the privacy of that child’s room, away from others’ prying ears.

But we have group disciplinary discussions, too.  In fact, when discipline involves interpersonal conflict between the two of them, you can be sure the attempted resolution involves both parties.  And in most cases, both are guilty of either offense or at the very least antagonism toward the other.  After all, they are both human and both teenagers.

So, when in the course of disciplinary discussions I hear the age-old complaint of being singled out over some issue, while a pang of frustration inevitably washes over me, it is quickly replaced with a momentary sense of satisfaction.  As a parent, I’m in one of the most natural and influential leadership roles imaginable.  And while I’m certainly not always a strong or perfect leader in parental moments, at least I can take some pride in recognizing that at least one of my foundational leadership lessons is still in play.

Praise in public.  Counsel in private.  And where followers believe they are the only ones being counseled, just perhaps, you’ll know you’re doing it right….at least at that very moment.

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