I would not go as far as saying that people with no kids cannot make a good leader, and yet certainly being a parent gives an edge on others when it comes to leading people.
There are few things that being a father tought me, and that I could translate basically 1:1 to my leadership roles.
First, it’s not about you. The moment you become a parent, you realize you are the least important person around. You don’t do parenting by being a prima donna, as you don’t do leadership by attracting the spotlights. And there’s more to it. You soon understand that while you are on your way out (not matter how old you are and how recently you have been promoted), the people you are helping develop are the future. The way you teach them will have a tremendous impact on what they will do in the world and how they will do it.
Second, don’t fall in love with your ideas. If you are a parent, you know plans change. No matter how much you want to go to the fair, or to the lake, or to the museum, something will most likely happen, and you’ll have to find an alternative despite your disappointment or anger. Flexibility and open mindedness are key when you are in charge of others, as is setting some kind of distance between yourself, your satisfaction, your success on one side, and your thoughts and ideas on the other.
Third, you have to show up. Parenting, as leadership, is not something you can switch off when you do not feel like doing it, when your head hurts, when you are exhausted (for perfectly legitimate reasons). You can’t hide in a room (or in a office) and pretend things are the way you want them to be. This also means that, as there’s no rest, you need to become good at taking your breathing moments without abandoning the ship.
Fourth, you are looked up to. If you have kids, you know how much of what you say and what you do they assimilate. It is often puzzling to me seeing myself through the eyes of my kids, as they play make believe, or as they react to certain situations in ways that are way too familiar to me. There’s so many people in leadership positions that think that what they say and what they do does not matter, because eventually everyone is free to make their own choices and be their true selves. Particularly in the short term, the way authority behaves is the way people around authority will behave.
Fifth and last, you get to clean a lot of shit. It’s not only a funny ending to this blog post, it’s more about taking responsibility for others’ behaviors. If your kid punches another kid at the park, you don’t say “ok, go clean your mess!”. You make sure the other is ok, you apologize and make your kid apologize, you might go as far as talk to the other’s parent to apologize once again and make sure everything is alright. And you take it on yourself to follow up and explain why that was not good and how kind people behave in that situation.