Parents, Leaders and Patterns of Transformational Potential: Part 1


During my first year of university, I was very intrigued with the concept of a parenting license. This is the idea that people should become parents only if they go through a series of basic training, not only for physical education (sexual health, eating habits, etc.), but for teaching how to foster healthy mental development in children as well.

As I kept pursuing this concept at UBC and discussing it with government agencies, I realized this idea would be repeatedly met with resistance. While the concept is intriguing and well-meaning in nature, the idea as it currently stands risks violating or being perceived as violating basic human rights.

How Parenting and Leadership Are The Same Skills

Now, as I learn and advance more into organizational behaviour and leadership while working with different leaders and employees, I realize how these two concepts are similar and how my early interest in a parenting license applies to leadership and organizational development.

Similar to parenting, “good” leaders will have a significant positive impact on individuals and society, while less stellar leaders can leave a streak of emotional and performance setbacks that damage individuals and society through the snowball effect.

Using the analogy of parenting as a form of leadership can help us to understand and learn more about the developmental psychological process involved in leadership and its impact on individuals’ wellbeing and organizational success.

Similar to parents who protect and guide their children to grow into successful, independent and autonomous adults, leaders help their followers grow and become autonomous and competent individuals. Therefore, we can benefit from this analogy by applying the insight gained from “good parent” to our leadership style.

A Focus on Transformation and Growth

The development process of individuals is highly dependent on the relationship between leaders and followers, particularly transformational leaders — one of the most effective styles of leadership (Bass, 1995; Conger and Kanungo, 1998). Bass described a transformational leader as one who empowers the followers and motivates them to work on transcendental goals instead of focusing solely on immediate interests. Transformational leadership elevates the followers’ level of maturity and encourage them to reach self-actualization and promote their concern for the well being of others, the organization and society.

As you can see on the table below, the similarity is apparent in several quite diverse domains—good leaders and parents alike are are sensitive, responsive, reinforce autonomy and growth in a supportive way. Moreover, “good” parents and transformational leaders are similar in terms of the outcomes for their “proteges” — promoting trust in others, self-confidence and self-esteem and being achievement-oriented.

Morality and Empathy Are Key in Good Leaders

The moral influence of parenting and leadership reflects on their proteges’ motivation, goal and prosocial behaviour and having more concerns for others and for the organization (and/or society). How morality and empathy develop are great examples of similarities between parenting and leadership. So, what are the key aspects of promoting moral and prosocial behaviour?

  • First of all, one key aspect of promoting moral behaviour is establishing expectations and demands for behaviour that is considered morally appropriate. Parents (leaders) should clarify expectations and setting a standard for how children should behave. Parents who simply accept any behaviour, known as permissive parents, usually do not raise children who are self-regulated and prosocial (Patterson, De Baryshe, & Ramsey,1989)
  • Secondly, whether the child (employee) is willing to accept and adopt the parental expectation is related to whether warmth and trust are the basis of the relationship (Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Hoffman, 1970; Kochanska & Thompson, 1997).
  • Thirdly, parents (leaders) provide explanations and reasons for the nature of the (mis)behaviour. In other words, parents provide a rationale why the behaviour is desirable or unacceptable, and they also have a discussion of the consequences or the feelings of the people involved (Burns, 1978).
  • Lastly, parents model such behaviour themselves making them the role model for their children (Hoffman, 1975; Radke-Yarrow & Zahn-Waxler, 1986).

Interestingly, the leadership literature reports similar findings. Transformational leaders promote a higher level of moral behaviours and values by:

  • introducing clear expectations and demands that are morally appropriate;
  • maintaining trustworthy and communicative relationships;
  • directing attention to consequences, particularly in terms of feelings; and
  • and by modelling empathy and prosocial behaviour. (M. Popper, O. Mayseless 2002).

In addition, prosocial behaviour in particular seems to be related to directing children’s attention to the consequences of their actions in terms of feelings of the people involved (empathy), as well as encouraging the child to feel and express their emotions. The same principle can be applied in our leadership style to encourage empathy within our workforce. It is critical to create an environment where people can freely express themselves, while being responsible for their actions and how people feel when in that environment.

Daniel Goleman who introduced the notion of emotional intelligence (EQ) as a central and prominent aspect in the workplace, found that excellence at work is twice as dependent on EQ as IQ and technical skills and there are many studies to support this finding at the organizational level.

This is the first of a two part series. READ PART TWO



Humans’ brains, behaviour and interactions with their environment never fail to impress Samin Saadat. After spending long hours in psychology labs at UBC and completing her Masters at Sauder School of Business, she entered the workforce and observed a gap between what research suggests and what companies actually do to increase productivity and profitability. Now, Samin is on a mission to bridge this gap through Jalapeño Employee Engagement by leveraging technology to bring research findings into live—to help  companies save millions of dollars and to enhance the quality of life of individuals.


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