WANTING IT ALL: Debbie Sandford - Most parents can pay bills while wiping their toddler's nose and haranging the builder on the phone - show me a better example of multi-tasking

WANTING IT ALL: Debbie Sandford - Most parents can pay bills while wiping their toddler's nose and haranging the builder on the phone - show me a better example of multi-tasking - No matter what you do, we are told, you are sure to be developing at least

by DEBBIE SANDFORD, who formerly worked at McKinsey and RandomHouse
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

No matter what you do, we are told, you are sure to be developing at least some of your talents. Even if you have been out of the paid workplace for years, whatever you've done in the meantime will have required a transferable skill set that can help you identify and secure yourself a job, if you decide to look for one.

Having been out of the paid workplace for 18 months, my own transferable skill set has been enhanced by looking after my two daughters. And so, for your edification and delight, let me set out seven things that being with my kids has taught me about business.

Leadership. If you wish to lead others you must identify and singlemindedly pursue a clearly defined goal. In other words, if you want to go swimming yet you are not focused with laser-like precision on achieving this, a hundred distractions will prevent you from ever reaching the leisure centre.

Second, you need the insight to understand what might cause people to resist; and, third, you need the ability to persuade them to help you.

Getting someone to do their homework, for example, can require the most judicious mix of carrot, stick, challenge, coaching and peer pressure.

Negotiation skills. At times I am convinced that my birth experiences were just hallucinations and my children were in fact born in a Turkish bazaar. 'Just one more spoonful, Mummy, pleeeease ...', to which I respond, in a considered fashion, 'Five more, darling.' A glance from under Tessa's lashes: 'Three.' Me: 'Seven.' Her: 'Four.' Etc. You get the idea. All those tactics - choosing your battles, standing firm, finding creative ways of saving face - that assist you in getting to win-win are practised daily. An allied skill is that of successful arbitration: how would you get two small but extremely determined souls to choose between the Thunderbirds and the Bob the Builder video without tears?

Time management. Most parents I know are fully capable of paying bills with their right hand while wiping their toddler's nose with their left and haranguing the builder on the cordless telephone wedged between chin and shoulder. Show me a better example of multi-tasking, someone, please.

Managing diversity. People are born with distinct personalities, and every one of them is different. But there are common groupings, the most obvious being male v female. Exceptions apart, little boys have phenomenal energy and aggression and are obsessed by vehicles, while little girls are articulate, careful and eager to please. And when they grow up, men and women tend to behave differently at work: in emotional situations, regardless of whether someone is angry or distressed, men tend to display anger and women distress. So be gentle with that angry bloke as he may be deeply upset, and for God's sake be careful as you try to comfort that upset woman - she may be spitting with rage.

Communication skills. For example, dealing with awkward questions. If you can handle 'So, do we have another life then, Mummy?' as you're busily stacking the dishwasher or 'Why does everything go in all different colours and come out brown?' while you're power napping in front of the news, responding to a humdinger from a difficult shareholder at the AGM should be no problem.

Adhering to the company line at all times is also a prerequisite for parenthood. As a result, my daughters are committed followers of Father Christmas. In fact, how to encourage a timely apostasy without sinking them into a mire of cynicism makes me rather nervous.

Cost control. Kids are expensive. You can't look at them on a marginal cost basis - with a new arrival, you might need a new car or a new house.

Sounds just like adding another person to your business team - be sure you'll need them because it'll be more expensive than you think. And as my children want to buy at least one thing in every retail outlet we pass, a parent is good at resisting demands for more resources.

Creativity. Children are naturally creative. Their fresh perspective and sense of wonder about the world is uplifting. They don't need to be told to think outside the box - after all, what are boxes? But years of schooling and being sensible - grown-up - seem to knock all that imagination out of us. So if you want to encourage creativity in the workplace, I would strongly encourage a bit of regression. Dressing up, perhaps, splashing about in water or just generally making a mess. But do allow plenty of time - creativity and efficient accomplishment of tasks are not natural bedfellows.

So, what does it add up to? You live in the moment, but you have to take the long view. You focus on minutiae down to your last raisin, but you have to see the big picture. Sounds like management.

But, above all else, children give you a sense of perspective. They teach you what's important in life - people, especially the people you love.

In the final analysis, everything else is just another job.

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