Dr. Matt Albert

We’re Almost There, Don’t Blow it Now

How to guide your family safely until vaccines arrive by using a business management leadership theory.

My college baseball pitching coach used to implore us to get tougher when there were two strikes. But instinctively we start to relax when we feel like we’re ahead. Two strikes means you control the at-bat, but there’s still a threat. And that’s when you should bear down and go even harder. That’s where we are with covid, almost there but still extremely vulnerable.

Going on nine months of pandemic living, it feels like covid family dynamics were designed to torture us in our own unique ways. Cracks are forming, pods are springing leaks, and backyard socializing is inching toward the warm glow of the kitchen lights. With vaccines on the way, the end is in sight. But not for some months. We’ve got two strikes on the virus so now is not the time to ease up.

So how should families do it? I suggest adjusting how we think about parenting by thinking of ourselves as the leader of a small organization. There’s a certain leadership style from the business world that I believe can help.

[Before dispensing parenting advice, I feel obligated to share a recent parenting blunder. My kids have wanted a dog for about 100 years. Last month they finally broke me and I agreed to get the “quarantine puppy.” I know. That first night was the happiest night of their lives. And my asthma and allergies almost killed me. We don’t have that dog anymore. Add it to the therapy list for when they’re older. Now, on to the parenting advice.]

The path-goal theory of leadership claims that a leader should help her subordinates define goals and choose the path to acomplish them. Parents are the leaders of the family but we don’t always think about or communicate our shared goals for the unit. Some days, we just want our kids to do their homework, not fight, and go to bed. And eat a vegetable.

The theory describes an achievement-oriented leadership style where the leader establishes challenging goals, expresses confidence, and encourages improvement. It places the responsibility on each individual to do their part to reach the goal. It’s an empowering style that research has shown results in positive team cohesiveness.

It can work this way:

Establish Challenging Goals – Explain what you want to be done. Let’s say you can’t get your kids to pick up after themselves or help after meals. Sit down together and tell them what you expect (nothing on their floors and dinner will be cleaned up, for example). And then tell them that they need to figure out how to accomplish it and support them while they figure it out. In the case of covid, the goal is for everyone to hang in there for a few more months without cracking.

Express Confidence – They may (will) push back. Tell them you know they can do it. Acknowledge that it’s not going to be simple, but it can be done. Push them.

Encourage Improvement – When they inevitably fail to meet your expectations, say it. But do it in the same way you answer that “what are your weaknesses?” question in an interview. You’re disappointed, but you know they can do better. And there will be another opportunity soon.

Like most parenting, this won’t magically transform your family into a machine that does your bidding. No, it will take some practice. When we first got the puppy, I connected with a dog trainer/philosopher to help us with the pup. He frames the process of integrating a puppy into the home with the acronym CPR: Consistency, Patience, and Repetition. He may as well have been discussing kids and the achievement-oriented leadership theory. I have seen it work with a family. Haven’t really tried it with a dog yet…

Just remember, we’ve got two strikes on this virus and now’s the time to bear down and get to the finish line. Don’t blow it now.

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