A People Person #16 - What potty training tells us about micromanagement
In this article
Taking care of business: a short, but instructive potty-training moment
Flushing away micromanagement at work
What I'm watching, our upcoming events, and more
I've talked in the past about how being a manager can be kind of shitty, but never so literally. I debated writing this because a toddler potty training story packaged as management advice is absolutely pushing professional boundaries.
But as you can sense, I am writing this because 1) it’s a great story and 2) it has something to say about micromanagement and trusting your team (or toddler).
Plus, I get a lot of positive feedback for my authenticity. I think I understand where this appreciation comes from because I also gravitate toward transparency. I’m uninterested in a glossy “look at me being flawless” reflection because it doesn't give me anything applicable to my own life, which is mostly lived in the struggle, challenge, and the messy bits.
Okay, so here goes and if you are uninterested in toddler bathroom behavior, I do suggest you skip this one.
ASSUMING THE POO-SITION
Taking care of business
So it’s a weeknight and I’m putting my son to bed. I’m midway through reading him a book (How Do Dinosaurs Stay Safe, if you’re interested), when he emits a noise that indicates he needs to use the restroom. Classy, I know.
It’s relevant to share that my husband and I have not been actively potty training our son mostly because we are lazy. I’m confident he’ll eventually figure it out so I’ve decided to put off actively making that happen and just let hope be a strategy. But we bought one of those fake plastic toilets at the advice of his daycare and it collects dust.
This night, my son walks to the bathroom singing, “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away” from Daniel Tiger and there I undress him. There was an email I wanted to get to so I decided, out of selfishness, to leave him alone to do his business so I can run mine. He is thrilled to finally be left alone (usually, I hover) and shoos me out, shutting the door.
I pull out my phone and slide down the email rabbit hole. Probably 10 mins later, but who really knows, I realize he’s been alone for too long and return back to reality. I open the door to see him standing next to his toilet, beaming.
“I pooped,” he announces, and proceeds to take out the plastic potty bowl insert to, and I quote, “flush his bowel movement.” (This elevated vocabulary is apparently why Brooklyn daycares cost so much.)
I’m shocked to see a tiny turd in the plastic insert since he’s never actually used the potty at home. My joy immediately turns to panic as he precariously lifts the potty insert out and totters toward the toilet. I grab for the insert and, like athletes fighting over a ball, we struggle for possession. Finally, I let go because the struggle seems worse than his unsteady grip. Shockingly, he then makes it to the toilet where he deposits his prize.
I breathe a sigh of relief but something catches my eye. I peer in to see that there is a much more reasonably sized turd already in the toilet. “Did you… already go potty,” I ask incredulously.
He confirms that he indeed did go potty, deposited v1, and what I had witnessed was more of a small encore.
Shocked (and proud), we finish everything up, me feeling like I have enough parental wisdom to fill a book. Looking for an outlet for our collective pride, we then interrupt my husband’s phone call to announce our triumph.
Flushing away micromanagement
But after I put my son to bed, I had to laugh at the micromanagement lesson the universe gifted me. I was worried about him doing something small when he had already figured out a more complicated task. Me intervening only frustrated him and made success less likely.
Now I cannot claim that since this incident, I’ve eschewed micromanagement, trusted my team, and vanquished my desire to swoop in. But “the potty incident” has helped me remember to pause before I intervene and I’m working on having a managerial bias toward inaction.
Intellectually, this is hard. What if, actually, the situation calls for a heavy hand? What if, instead of a successful flush, stepping back results in a bathroom resembling a Jackson Pollack painting?
There’s really no way of knowing in advance, but something I’m telling myself, in the work context, is it’s better to find out if my team is capable of handling their business, and giving them a shot, versus treating them like, well, a child. Because something I remember acutely feeling in the Army is that if you treat me like a child, I will gladly act like one.
What I'm watching
I rarely watch movies because my attention span is unacceptably short but I watched Tár and I strongly recommend you do. Cate Blanchett is stunning and it’s a really clever take on what could be a more didactic #MeToo story.
What I'm doing
On Tuesday, January 31st, our VP of People Melanie Naranjo will be hosting an interactive webinar, How to Get Alignment with Senior Leadership. Check it out if you’d like tips on getting aligned with your C-suite. Or if you’d like to e-meet our rockstar Melanie IRL. Space is limited.
Until next time,
CEO & Co-founder, Ethena