Do French parents make better startup CEOs?

I recently came across an article in the Wall Street Journal with a title that was a little hard to miss: Why French Parents Are Superior. After it was published, my friends from around the world began emailing me asking my thoughts.

“Is it true that French kids don’t cry?”

Ok, I’m exaggerating a little bit – nobody asked me this specific question (but close)! Having grown up in the US to immigrant parents, I actually drew the conclusion early on – not that French parents were superior per say – but that foreigners did “educate” (as used in the WSJ article) their children differently than American parents. Ok fine, if you want my opinion, French children are – in general – far better behaved at a much younger age than American children (I’m not going to venture into comparisons with cultures that I am less familiar with).

(PS: This actually never happens in France. Nope, never.)

Grow up, already.

In addition to everything Pamela Drukerman outlines in her article – which concludes with the art of effective communication – the French also do not shelter their children from sex or alcohol. Ha! I can imagine that this idea shocks most of the States between California and New York. I’m sure that someone will manage to say “and that is exactly how the French end up with characters like Dominique Strauss-Kahn.” Then again, the Americans got Clinton, Spitzer, Haggard and a long list of similar characters. So on se calme !

(End political discourse here.)

But I digress – the point of my article is not to tell Americans to lighten up and give their kids a sip of beer (well, maybe that too), but to actually consider the parallels between parenting and running a business.

Awe, what a cute startup!

In the startup world, people are always comparing their startups to children. “It’s my baby” is not an unfamiliar way to refer to one’s company, which can be a little odd. Just Google “Startup” and “Baby” and you’ll get dozens of crazy articles, including ones that map out the growth of a company as if it were actually a living, breathing human. But then there have also been articles that remind us of the differences between startups and children and the problems that this relationship can cause in a company – namely that you will be vulnerable and difficult to work with.

Look, we need to talk about Kevin.

This film was probably one of the better films I saw last year, along with Polanski’s Carnage. And funny enough, both of them are about parenting. Or are they? Actually, they’re both about communicating – but more importantly, they’re about motivation. I will try not to spoil either of the films for anyone who hasn’t seen them – but in both films, the parents are remarkably ignorant of what motivates their child to behave in a certain way.

But thankfully, most parents aren’t Kevin’s parents. In fact, most parents know precisely how to get their kids how to do something – and according to Druckerman’s article, it’s French parents that know better than anyone how to get their kids to behave the way they want.

I’m CEO, bitch.

You’re probably now wondering what this has to do with startups. Well, many people have obviously pointed out that you can draw parallels between parenting and managing. I’m not saying that you should treat your kids like employees but rather that you should consider understanding what motivates those that you work with like you would for your children – and use it. In my own professional experience, I have worked the hardest for the people that I felt understood and recognized my motivations the best; I could tell that they knew what mattered to me and would help me get there.

No, it’s not about the money.

This was actually a point in the presentation made by Ricardo Sousa at the Failcon we organized in Paris last year; he had managed to get people to work for him for free because he understand what motivated them – titles, attending specific conferences, etc. In many ways, this strategy isn’t that different from parenting. If you think about it, French parents (in Druckerman’s article) aren’t motivating their children with stickers and candy  – but with reason. They’re not telling their children “you do this and I’ll give you that” but are treating them as adults, giving their children reasonable freedom and encouraging them not to abuse it. Now, it’s common knowledge that most motivated people are often driven by something beyond money – and Google’s 20% time may just prove it. So take a clever approach to working with your children employees, give them freedom and be sure to avoid using the one-size-fits-all rewards system.

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