Management Parenting vs. Leadership Parenting

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

Family is a group that needs guidance. A family might have a dad and a mom and several children, or it might be a single parent sharing custody, having one or more children part of the time. Maybe your family is grandparents raising a child, or foster parents caring for children for a time. Adoption is a special kind of family.

Every family needs both management and leadership. Which do you emphasize and what do you need to develop in your life to be most effective to guide your tribe? Knowing the difference between management and leadership can provide helpful insights into your family dynamic.

Every Family Needs Management

Managers keep things going. They track the schedule, make sure resources like clothes, shoes, food, soap and toilet paper are readily available. Managers care for others and consider their needs, both physical and emotional. They’re on the lookout for problems and challenges and spend time fixing things, comforting others, and making sure tasks like homework and chores get done.

Managers delegate responsibilities and follow up to make sure assigned tasks are completed. They step in to solve relationship challenges to keep the peace and reduce tension.

The landowner in Matthew 25:14-30 was a manager. When he returned from his trip he had each of his three stewards report in. His response to the first two was, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Although we wouldn’t recommend those exact words to children, it is helpful to check up on their work and affirm them accordingly.

The third steward in that story wasn’t as reliable so the landowner took away the money and gave it to others. The principle is that privilege and responsibility go together. Managers allocate privileges not as rewards, but as the natural benefits that come from responsibility.

Things run smoothly under the guidance of managers. King Solomon in the Bible was a manager. He delegated to experts and managed teams to build the great temple. It’s continuous work to be a manager and those who do it live under the pressure of feeling like their job is never done. They value gratitude, cooperation, and help.

Every Family Needs Leadership

Leaders move the family toward a goal. They envision where individuals are headed and look for ways to inspire and motivate them forward. These people help the family gain perspective, understand their purpose, and see how responses to the current challenges of life produce wisdom and life skills for the future.

Leaders might ignore the mundane to cherish relationship. Or, they might focus on the goal and overlook how people feel. Leaders often have a different way to think about cleaning, organizing, and getting things done.

Parents as leaders identify character goals for children and help strategize to reach those goals. Sibling conflict becomes an opportunity to develop tolerance, gracious communication, and creative problem solving. Leaders look past the mess to the thoroughness and diligence this child needs for the rest of life.

Joshua was a great leader. He told the people three times in Joshua chapter 1:6-9 to be strong and courageous. You can feel the inspiration in his tone. In Joshua 24:15 he says, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua had vision and wanted to take people with him.

Leaders recognize that every family has a God-given mission and that reducing conflict and tension provide more energy to empower the family to meet that purpose. They draw attention to the future, the bigger picture, and link the present difficulties to future accomplishments.

King David in the Bible was a leader. Not only did he fight the giant, but he continually led military campaigns to conquer enemies. Leaders have ideals, get emotionally involved both with success and with failure. They value respect, admiration, agreement, and support toward the bigger goal.

Leadership and Management Work Together

Leadership without management can be described as inspired chaos. The family has an idea of where it should be but can’t seem to get any traction because it keeps getting sidetracked with lost shoes, empty cereal boxes, and no gas in the car.

Management without leadership can appear militaristic. Relationships often suffer, the parent feels unappreciated, and children feel micromanaged.

Both leaders and managers set rules, give instructions, and correct children. They just do it in different ways. When a family has one leader and one manager they might argue about parenting differences but would do better to work together and appreciate the others gifts and talents. What brings managers and leaders together is common goals, lots of communication, and celebration of progress.

In many families one person tries to be both the manager and the leader. Sometimes this happens in a single parent home. Other times one parent feels the burden of parenting and accepts the need to step up to meet the challenge. Nehemiah in the Bible was both a leader, as he inspired the people to revival, and a manager as he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

This combination approach works when the parent can sense which skills are necessary in the moment, or, better yet, combines management and leadership skills in daily activity. For example, “Son, you’re doing great at getting ready on your own in the morning without me prompting you. That’s just another sign of your maturity (Leadership). I want to talk about schoolwork and maybe using some of those responsibility skills to get it done better (Management).”

And Then There are the Followers

Children have their own budding leadership or management skills. One dad said to his eleven-year-old son, “I can tell you’re going to be a leader someday. You seem to have an opinion about how everyone else, including your parents, can fit into your plans.” Good leaders though must learn how to follow. That applies to parents as well. Often, one parent must defer to another parent for the health and welfare of a family. Overly dominant personalities in children or parents can weaken the success of the family unit because they don’t tend to value the strengths of others in the family.

Children can learn management and leadership skills in the home as they take responsibility for themselves. Teaching children to take initiative and contribute to family life is an important step for the self-focused child. Young people can learn to see things that need to be done and do them without being told. That’s one of the signs of a manager.

Leadership, management, and parenting all bring order and change into a group. The family is a place where strategy and creativity can produce positive results. Firmness and visioning are also important, not only to get the clothes cleaned and the dishes put away. Children are growing and becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.

What About You?

People who believe that leaders and managers are born and not made make frustrated parents. The reality is that every family is a laboratory for growth for all involved. Children must learn to follow, even while developing leadership skills. Parents must learn to lead and manage despite their lack of desire or expertise.

Be careful that you don’t simply justify your actions because you tend to be more of a leader or a manager. It might be better to ask the question, “What does my child need from me?” You will likely adjust your approach based on the needs of your child. Furthermore, keep in mind that character mediates authority. Graciousness and respect help any leader, manager, or follower to be more effective.

Most children and youth benefit from both a managerial and leadership approach from their parents. Thinking about parenting from this perspective might provide new ways to motivate your kids and your family to greater heights.

No matter which you find yourself aligning with, you’ll want to reach your child’s heart. Using your strengths, talents, and personality is important. And you can use those assets in unique ways to bring about lasting and deeper change. We wrote the book Parenting is Heart Work to empower you forward in that direction.


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