Leadership Lessons Your Parents Didn’t Teach You

Whether we like it or not, we’ve all learned a great deal from our parents. In so many ways, they shape who we are and how we build relationships.

However, when I reflect on the lessons of my parents and my experiences as a leader in business, one thing stands out. My parents often taught me how to respond to authority – listen to your teachers, say please and thank you, that kind of thing. However, you don’t learn a lot early in life about how to be an authority figure.

That may be part of the reason a lot of people struggle with being the boss – striking a balance between being a pushover and being a tyrant.

As those of you in CEO roles know, being nice to everyone and minding your manners doesn’t always work.

Yes, those lessons of respect and integrity from your parents still matter a great deal as a leader. You still have to treat people the right way.

But there’s a few things your parents probably didn’t teach you that you have to adapt to when you become CEO.

  1. A lot of people don’t care nearly as much as you do. Part of the reality of running a company is that not all your employees are going to be as dedicated and invested as you. That means finding different ways to motivate people. Not everyone is going to give their all simply for the good of the company. You have to tap into each individual’s talents and then give them opportunities to learn and develop themselves. 

When you have new projects and initiatives, sometimes you have to frame it as a way for the employee to grow, so they’ll have better opportunities later in their career. Yes, this might ultimately help them move on to a different job, but I’d much rather have a motivated employee – even if he’s motivated to help him or herself more than the company – than someone who just doesn’t care about what he’s doing.

  1. Not everyone is going to like you, some might even despise you. If you’re raised in a loving home, you’re going to be the center of your parents’ world and they’re going to build you up to a certain extent. No matter what you do, for the most part, they’re going to love you.

As the boss, being loved is no guarantee. In fact, some might think far less of you than you’d like to imagine. In part, this is where that self-confidence your parents instilled needs to kick in. It’s also where you have to accept that you can’t always be popular. That sometimes the people below you will get fed up with you or not like your ideas.

Think of it as a good thing. You want smart people working for you who will challenge your ideas and make them better. If, at the end of the day, you’ve treated them with respect and they still don’t like you, that’s okay. It’s not necessarily your job to be liked.

  1. Don’t do what you’re told. As a CEO, doing what you’re told – or to put it differently, believing what you’re told – is not part of the job description. Your job is to have a bold vision; to question the status quo; to stay open to every possibility that can help your company grow.

Yes, you’ll take recommendations and consider limitations of scope and budget, but at the end of the day you’re making the decisions. Sometimes that means not taking no for answer.

At the same time, if people question you, don’t be afraid to practice one time-honored tradition of parental guidance – “because I said so.”

Andy Roe is the General Manager of SurePayroll, Inc., a Paychex Company. SurePayroll is the trusted provider of easy online payroll services to small businesses nationwide. SurePayroll compiles data from small businesses nationwide through its Small Business Scorecard optimism survey, and exclusively reflects the trends affecting the nation's “micro businesses” — those with1-10 employees. You can follow Andy on Twitter @AndrewSRoe.

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