My son is about to turn 20 and I’m so proud of him. Prouder still of me. I didn’t throw sharp objects, nag incessantly, take away privileges, drone on about accountability and responsibility, or yell and scream like a raving maniac during those teen years. (Well, except for that one freak out. More on that in a minute.)
Reflecting on those years I realize that becoming a good boss of rebels at work can help you become a better parent. Especially during the teenage years.
There are many good reasons to be a good boss of those rebels and mavericks who, like teenagers, think current policies and approaches are stupid and want to change everything. If you help rebels, they’ll go to the mat for your organization and you’ll likely get a promotion, score a big bonus, look good with the suits on the executive floor, and be the person everyone in the company wants to work for.
But the real reason to coach rebels like a rock star is to train yourself for those teenage years. If you have teenagers or have made it through, you likely know what I’m talking about. If you don’t yet have teenage children, take this advice and thank me later.
Like the rebels who work for us, we love our teenagers’ fresh thinking, their creativity, their intolerance for school and societal rules that just don’t make sense, and their willingness to go to the mat to do something about those stupid rules. They are so bold and vibrant and confident that it can take our breath away. We want to be them.
And yet they make us crazy when they skirt the rules, do dumb things without understanding the bigger context, let their emotions run wild, and screw up so badly that we have to have one of those dreaded meetings with the principle or the CEO where no one really knows what to say except, “Talk to her. Try to keep him in line. I know she’s basically a good student/employee. One last thing -- let’s not let this happen again.” You walk away feeling like a reprimanded teenager.
Better for rebels, better for teenagers
So what helps us help rebels at work – and, in turn, helps us help our teenagers at home?
When we coach rebels and help them learn how to navigate within existing structures however screwed up they may be, they develop capacities for being effective, meaningful citizens of the world. If we simply insist they follow the rules, they just get angrier and more frustrated. Saying, “the rules are the rules” to idea people at work and creative kids at home is like talking in a different language. Like a language with all guttural, ugly sounds. They just hear the hard edges and look at the spit coming out of our mouths and think, “How pathetic.”
I tried, not always successfully, to remark more on what my teenage son was doing well than on what he should be doing differently or better. I’d ask him what was working in school or share my work challenges and ask him what he thought might be the best approach. I valued his opinions because I knew they would be honest, frank and fresh. Not the usual blah-blah responses.
Rebels at work also provide this freshness. Don’t miss out on these perspectives. They’re foreign, like a teenager’s, but with more wisdom.
Conversations with rebels, like teens, can’t be superficial or disingenuous. They’ll tune you out, and you’ll miss out.
What worries you? What else do you think is possible? What are we kidding ourselves about? What might happen if we…
Questions teach, both them and us.
Rebels and teens know a lot. They think a lot. And they’ll help you gain new perspectives. Their ideas might make you feel uncomfortable. OK, they will make you feel uncomfortable. But that’s how we learn, right?
By hearing and considering their views, we build trust, love, mutuality, togetherness, bonding. Most importantly, we build their capacity to consider other views and learn how to disagree without being a jerk. To be able to talk about ideas where no one is right or wrong. To feel safe enough to disagree and still feel safe and valued as part of the family or as part of the organization.
As long as they don’t steal your credit card to buy World of Warcraft add-ons.
This is where the freak out happened.
My son and I had had several conversations about getting the gaming thing under control. So when I opened my card statement and saw several different $25 charges from Blizzard Entertainment, I went nuts.
He came home from school all cheerful and I started screaming, channeling an Irish banshee, waving my credit card bill. I was maniacal, and one scary woman. To finish off my tantrum I slammed the front door, got in the car, and drove off leaving my son at home alone for several hours.
I am a calm person. He knew that a line had been crossed.
When I finally came home, he had written a letter to me, not only apologizing but also explaining how he would pay me back and, much more importantly, how he was going to cure the burgeoning World of Warcraft addiction. “That I’ve disappointed you is the worse thing of all,” he wrote.
He had a plan that was far better than anything that I could have constructed. He beat himself up harder than I ever would or could.
From having been the boss of rebels, I guess I knew that he would figure out a way forward that was more insightful and effective than anything I could imagine.
Because we had a relationship built on honesty and mutual caring, I knew we would recover. No one had to win or lose.
I love that boy, who I now have to call a man. He’s creative, passionate, dedicated, often unrealistic in setting goals, curious, and sometimes self-absorbed when he’s in the flow of a project.
Like a rebel. Like the best people who ever worked in my organizations.
So if you have a rebel working for you, rejoice! Coach, ask questions, let go of control while setting some boundaries, and make it safe to talk about the tough stuff.
You’re going to love the teenage years.