Leaders, Managers, and Employees – Teach Kids to Know the Difference

Leaders, Managers, and Employees - Teach Kids to Know the Difference

Not every child will grow up to enter the workforce. Some will be entrepreneurs and start their own business. Others will stay home to raise children of their own. And still others will spend the rest of their days doing good in the world in their own unique ways. But no matter what path they choose, kids should know the difference between leaders, managers, and employees. Knowing the difference – and knowing what they want to be – will help with their long-term success no matter which route they pursue.

Leaders, Managers, and Employees All Focus On Different Things

Raising our kids to do their part and develop work ethic has been very important to my wife and me as parents over the years. From an early age (usually by 4 or 5 years old), our kids learn to do dishes, wash clothes, vacuum floors, clean their rooms, etc. This is an important part of teaching our kids the difference between leaders, managers, and employees.

Last night I did my rounds in the kitchen to check on the after-dinner cleanup and noticed two knives, a fork, and a cup on the counter. Our 12-year-old son (who is the counter wiper this month) and our 11-year-old daughter (who is the dish washer this month) had both missed these dishes. When I considered the situation, I realized that we had all focused on different things. My daughter diligently got all of the dishes from the sinks into the dishwasher, but not those on the countertops. And my son had wiped off the counters, but had not considered the dishes. So I moved each of those items to the sink to be washed tomorrow.

This is a common thing in most households, and I wasn’t surprised (or even aggravated). But it did help me realize that leaders, managers, and employees all focus on different things. My two children acted as employees. I acted as a manager, then later as a leader when I talked with them about it. Here’s what I mean…

What Employees Focus On

Employees (individual contributors, workers, etc.) have a different focus than leaders and managers. Generally speaking, employees want to get the job done so they can get paid and go home. This can be true even if they take pride in their work. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the job is a means to an end – spending time with family, supporting a spouse with a better career to help make ends meet, etc. – then there’s nothing wrong with “just” being an employee. It’s important to know, however, that if the mindset doesn’t change, then there likely won’t be much growth in the workplace for them.

In the example of my kids with the dishes, both of them focused on getting their job done. If the counters are wiped or the sinks are empty, they can check the box. When the box is checked, they are done – that’s it.

What Managers Focus On

Managers also focus on getting the job done, but the job is bigger than any one person. They make sure the “bigger” job gets done, if you will. In my case, it was making sure the kitchen was clean, not just that the dishes were washed and the counters were wiped.

Managers look at things more broadly and find better ways to do things. For example, making sure that wiping the counters comes before sweeping the floor is important when the kids are doing the chores. Otherwise you have to sweep again! This is a process improvement that managers look for when trying to make things more efficient and better overall.

When teaching your kids the difference between leaders, managers, and employees, it’s important to help them see the bigger picture. For those interested in becoming managers, this will help them transition from an employee to a manager.

What Leaders Focus On

Leaders focus on creating value, which means they are steering the ship. They make sure that the team is focusing on the most strategically valuable activities possible for the overall success of the organization, be it a business or a family unit.

In the kitchen scenario above, my wife and I were acting as leaders when we decided to teach our children early to learn an exceptional work ethic. We were also acting as leaders when we discussed the kitchen scenario with them. We did so to ask them to focus on the whole kitchen, not just their specific piece of it.

One simple way to help your kids learn to transition from managers to leaders is to encourage them to focus on the value of the work or activity they’re performing. When doing chores or homework, teach them to ask the question, “Is this the right thing to be doing right now?” That will help change their focus towhat to do, not how to do it. This is a critical distinction in leadership.

Another Difference Between Leaders and Managers

When considering the differences between leaders, managers, and employees, it’s important to teach your kids that managers manage things and leaders lead people. Many colleagues I’ve worked with over the years thought they were good leaders because they were great at getting things done. Or, even worse, because they made sure other people got things done. I would agree that those things make for a good manager, but those are NOT leadership skills. (If you’re interested, here are a few good tips on leadership for your reading pleasure.)

Good leaders focus on the growth and development of the people they lead. Yes, they “steer the ship” and focus on strategy. But the whole reason they’re steering the ship is so the crew can get where they need to go and perform their core functions. That’s the only way their group will thrive.

After all, a leader with no followers is just someone doing their own thing.

How have you helped your kids learn to be leaders? What experiences can you share with us that show the difference between leaders, managers, and employees? Let us know in the comments below!


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