Finally, there is ability to truly act independently as a person or team because the privilege has been earned as a result of strong sense of trust and a first hand knowledge of past successful track record. As a leader, you are more like a parent in that you have done your best to provide the person and team with the tools that they will need to be successful. You have also been able to see firsthand during different efforts or mentoring sessions how the person or group will think and react.
You are the parent seeing their children off into the world knowing that they are ready to act independently, but you are still interested in hearing reports about how they are doing as well as being there to provide any support necessary to help them succeed.
The parenting style of leadership is the ultimate in that you are truly allowing the person or group to determine everything on their own. You are basically providing the problem statement and maybe an expectation as to when it needs to be solved, and that is it. You are being provided updates, but not taking or being asked to take any role that may influence the person or group in any way as they go about resolving the situation.
Given that lack of hands on participation, the parenting style is not one that all project managers are comfortable with using. There is a lot of time and history that goes into building a relationship with the person or group that allows for this style to work. Yet, from a project managers perspective, having a team that can be trusted provides a huge advantage in that it is like having an additional set of arms and legs ― you are freed from worry and can focus fully on other items. The parenting style is, however, more involved than just delegating a task. The two are similar in that another person or group is taking on work that you assigned but that is where the similarity ends.
When work is delegated in most cases there is still an active requirement to keep on top of the work. This will require some portion of your time but nowhere near as much time as if you were leading the effort. Leveraging the parent style of leadership as is total abdication to the person or group to determine their own process towards the solution. As project manager, you are totally free of any time commitment because of that trust.
In the end, providing leadership is not an easy task in part because each situation is different. There is no one style that will always work regardless of the situation. These different styles provide a project manager with options that can be used in specific situations to better achieve the end objectives of the project. The key is to determine which style will work best for you at what time.
Ron Ponce is president of Fog City Consulting, a San Francisco-based program and project management consulting firm, which specializes in organizational infrastructure, project delivery, and professional development and training services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.