Babysitter or parent

There’s a concept Nest’s founder Tony Faddell calls out in his book, “Build,” differentiating Babysitter CEOs and Parent CEOs.

Babysitter CEOs focus on keeping the status quo and changing little. Rocking the boat is not on their agenda and, while many drive incremental growth, many drive companies to the ground as well by not making the changes organizations need to survive.

Parent CEOs, on the other hand, are all about doing whatever it takes. That often comes with a recognition of the risk of sticking with the status quo and the associated (large) upside/downside. It also speaks to the toil these leaders go through – it isn’t easy being a parent.

I think the concept applies to all kinds of leadership. Sometimes, even as parents, it can be tempting to just play the role of babysitter – especially on a bad day if we just decide to turn on the TV and the kids run wild. It takes a lot of effort to be present, to push for the change we seek thoughtfully and tactfully, and to ensure we’re leading from places of wholeness vs. our wounds.

Leadership in every organization or team works like that too. We face babysitter vs. parent choices all the time –

  • Do we make the calls we’d make assuming we’d still be around for 5 years or are we going for the quick win?
  • Do we have the hard conversation or look to keep the peace?
  • Do we try to land that point and risk looking like a fool?
  • How much accountability do we take for what’s happening?

And so on.

Babysitter or parent is a lovely metaphor for the choice that we make. Renter or owner could be another.

Either way, it takes a combination of thoughtfulness, emotional labor, and guts to consistently make good long term choices.

And we are presented with the option not to every time we go to play. It’s just a question of what we habitually default to.

As someone shared in response to my note about standards the other day – First, we make our habits. Then our habits make us.