Ep 173: When to Hand Over Control

Episode Summary

Peter Docker, author of Leading From The Jumpseat, gives us pointers on how and when to let go of the urge to control our teens. Plus, he shares what we can do to stay cool when teens press our buttons.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

It can be alarming when  teens are suddenly staying out late, dating, and getting behind the wheel. It’s easy to see them as the tiny toddler they once were, when barely able to even walk! Watching them grow from little kids to young adults means that we have to relinquish control and give them more and more independence….which is no simple task. We want to protect them, shelter them and guide their every move to make sure they don’t go astray, but maybe this isn’t the best way to prepare them to take on life in the real world!

This week’s episode is about taking the backseat as a parent. Even when we want to run out the door and stop our teen from going out in that outfit, or watch over them until they finish every problem on their physics homework, sometimes it’s wise to step back and let them go at it on their own. Even though teens might mess up, make mistakes and have regrets, a little bit of independence can be an important preparation for the wild ride of adulthood they’ll face up ahead. 

We’re sitting down with Peter Docker, author of Leading From The Jumpseat: How to Create Extraordinary Opportunities by Handing Over Control. After 25 years serving in the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, Peter became a leadership expert, helping companies all around the globe for nearly 14 years. Plus, he’s a father of two! Peter pours his knowledge about service, business, and teamwork into a parenting context this week to help us see how we can run our homes with integrity and purpose.

Peter and I are discussing the difference between taking a position and taking a stand–and why this is a crucial distinction parents need to make. Plus, we’re talking about authenticity and integrity, and explaining how you can finally get your teen to put their dirty laundry in the hamper! 

How Parents Can Take a Stand

When our teens decide they want a nose piercing or to stay out until four AM,  our first reaction is usually to firmly declare “that’s not allowed!” This leads the two of you to argue. Your teen slams the door in your face, and you have the same fight over and over until there’s nothing left to do but give in or give up. But according to Peter, there’s a better way. Instead of taking a position, he says we need to take a stand.

You may think those sound like the exact same thing, but Peter explains that they actually couldn’t be more different. A position is a strong reaction to the situation at hand, and usually sparks a counterposition. You take the position that your teen can’t vape, they take the position that they can do whatever they want! But a stand goes deeper than just a position. It requires you to look at what you truly care about, and what’s important to you. Instead of just taking the position that your teen shouldn’t vape, Peter says we should take a stand for your teens health and wellness.

This shows teens that your attitude isn’t just about disagreeing with them, it’s about looking out for them. It might take a little extra effort not to throw a “because I said so” their way, but it’s worth it, says Peter. Teens respond much better when they feel like they’re being considered, not just told what to do. 

Similarly, it helps to come into these conflicts with a level head.  In the episode, Peter and I talk about the difference between an emotional reaction and a logical response, and how responding to a tricky situation with intention makes a world of difference.

Authenticity vs. Integrity

We care about our kids more than anything…which is why we can get frustrated, angry or upset when we feel like they aren’t listening. But Peter recommends we let our brain process our emotions before we enter into a loaded discussion with teens, or anticipate how we’ll feel and prepare so that we don’t blow up in their faces. As Peter says in the episode, we want to make sure our response comes from a place of love, not from a place of fear.

Peter explains that this is the difference between authenticity and integrity. Although people often tell us to “be authentic”,  Peter believes this is an oversimplification of parenting, or any kind of leadership. While it’s good to be honest and vulnerable, Peter says that we can’t just unleash whatever kind of “authentic” behavior we might feel inclined to perform. Instead, he suggests living with integrity, and putting a filter over our natural behavior to make sure we’re acting as role models. Thoughtful, intentional parenting is more impactful than just unfiltered behavior, says Peter.

Of course, this is always much easier said than done. That’s why Peter and I take time to discuss the possibility of messing up in this week’s episode. Peter speaks to the importance of humble confidence, being able to admit to your teen that you may have blown things out of proportion. Asking for forgiveness not only strengthens bonds with teens, it also models humility! Watching you take responsibility for your lip ups can show teens that they’re capable of doing the same.

Beyond just staying calm and taking a stand, Peter and I are discussing other ways we can get through to teens. Specifically, we’re talking about the importance of community and belonging.

Inspiring Responsibility in Teens

It can be hard to motivate teens to take their responsibilities seriously. Luckily, Peter has some tips! In our interview, we talk about how tricky it is to get teens to put their dirty laundry away. But if they’re going out with their friends on Saturday night and want their favorite shirt to get washed, it’s sure to be in the basket! Peter explains that teens are spurred on by social pressure, by the need to fit in and belong. And although this can definitely work against you as a parent, you can also make it work in your favor!

Teens’ need to belong beyond just their peers. Reminding teens that they belong in your family too might just encourage them to be more responsible, says Peter. Teens are annoyed when you ask them to take out the dishwasher…but if you remind them that it’s for the communal good of the family and emphasize the important role they play in the household, they might be more likely to follow through, As Peter emphasizes in the episode, we take responsibility for what we care about and what we commit to.

Peter has some interesting takes on the idea of commitment, which we discussed this week. As Peter explains in our interview, commitment is not just something you pledge to others, but to yourself.  If teens really want to commit to getting an A in chemistry or make the soccer team, it won’t be because you told them to. It will come because they motivated themselves! Helping teens realize this can bring them to think critically about what they really want to commit to, and where they want to direct their efforts.

In the Episode…

It was so great to talk with Peter about how we can incorporate principles of strong leadership into our families. On top of the topics discussed above, we also cover:

  • Why it’s critical for parents to be consistent
  • How to maintain our values through hardship
  • Why responsibility is different than accountability
  • How looking at context can transform our attitudes

If you enjoyed this episode, check out leadingfromthejumpseat.com for more innovative parenting and leadership material. Don’t forget to share and subscribe and we’ll see you next week.

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Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. Rather than resisting, try leaning in: 

“I know that you want this [motorcycle]. I’m not going to stand in your way. I’ll tell you what, we’ll both do the training. I’ll learn to [ride a motorcycle] with you.”

-Peter Docker

2. If you messed up and need a reset: 

(Members Only)

3. Focus on solutions instead of problems:

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: The book is Leading From The Jumpseat: How to Create Extraordinary Opportunities by Handing Over Control, and a lot of great stories from your own life, as well as other stories from other businesses and people who use these principles in different scenarios. How did you get the idea to start collecting all these ideas and stories together, and what inspired you to write it into a book?

Peter: Well, I’ve been hugely fortunate over my almost 59 years, Andy. I’ve traveled to 93 countries, I’ve worked with, oh, well over 100, probably 200 different companies in every industry you can imagine. I’ve served in the Royal Air Force for 25 years as a pilot so I’ve led people in combat situations. I’ve led multi-billion dollar projects, I’ve taught at Defense College on leadership, all these different things, which sound quite impressive when you read them off, I guess, but I’ll let you into a secret, most of the time, I felt completely out of my depth. I really did. And I think that links actually to parenting because I’ve brought all these ideas together into this book because I want to share what I learned because I think we know when we’ve discovered something that kind of works in leadership, whether it’s leading as a parent, or leading a team, but often finding it written down when someone has put those thoughts into words.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: Really, really helps. And I think that’s what it is with this book. A lot of the things that people might read in the book, they go, “Oh yeah, that makes absolute sense.” But because I’ve put it into black and white, it then is much more actionable. And Leading From The Jumpseat, that is a phrase that’s borrowed really from my flying days as a pilot, when I flew large passenger jets and I just happened to be sat in the jump seat, which is a third seat on the flight deck of many large passenger jets, which is immediately behind the two pilots. And I was sat in that seat the day after I’d just qualified the captain, as a new captain. And we’d just gone airborne out San Francisco and we had an emergency.

Peter: And what I then chose to do in the next few moments, actually, a couple of seconds, would dictate whether I and the 140 people on board survived or not. And spoiler alert here, but I chose to do absolutely nothing because I knew that the guy, I’d just qualified, a chap out called Callum, the captain, he had this. He’d have the skills, he’d have the training. What I needed to do was to get out of his way, stay out of his way. And I think most importantly, for him to feel that I had his back, and Leading From The Jumpseat is a metaphor, really. It’s regardless of whether we’re the CEO of a company or leading a team, or in this case, a parent, at some stage, we’re going to have to hand over control.

Peter: It’s obvious as a CEO, you’ll retire, you’ll move teams, but as a parent, your kids will eventually grow up, leave home, and start leading their own lives. So it’s inevitable we hand over control. What this book is all about is, okay, given that inevitability, how do we lead in a way that prepares our people to take the lead themselves? In this case, how can we prepare our kids to carry forward those things that we feel are really important to us as human beings? And when we lead with that sort of intention, particularly as a parent, which I think is one of the biggest challenges, leadership challenges, any of us face, when we lead with that intention of handing over control, it actually opens up all sorts of extraordinary new opportunities along the way. So that was the thinking behind the book and sharing a few ideas, distinctions in language that help us to have different conversations, that then helped us get different results. And that was the impetus behind the book, sharing all of that with others.

Andy: You write in here about the difference between a position and a stand.

Peter: Yeah.

Andy: What’s the difference between those things? And how did that come into play when your 18-year-old son wanted to purchase a 600CC Suzuki Bandit motorcycle?

Peter: Yeah, this is a great one I actually only picked up on because this is where I’m using a distinction in language to help us have those different conversations, then a practical example of how that helped me some years ago, or 10 years ago now, in a particular moment with my son. But very quickly, the difference between a stand and a position, a position is against something or someone.

Andy: Okay. Absolutely not.

Peter: Yeah. Or we only need to switch on the TV or open a newspaper, or check on the internet and we can find lots of people taking positions others, or an idea or a concept. And that’s part of life, but a position can only exist with a counter-position, a different view.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: A stand, on the other hand, is what we stand for, what we believe. And a stand doesn’t rely on anything else or anyone else to exist. So very quickly, an example I give in the book is we’ve got a very narrow lane, we live out in the countryside here in England, a very narrow lane just by our house. And there’s only really enough room for one car to pass. So sometimes you’ll get two cars meeting, going opposite directions, head on and they stop. And they each take up a position.

Andy: Ah.

Peter: Yeah, and that will sound like, “You were going too fast, you need to back up to the passing place.” And the other guy will say, “Whoa, no, no. My journey is more important. You need to back up to the passing place.” And their position is to get more and more entrenched. But then on occasion, you’ll have two cars coming together in the same way, but one driver immediately reverses up to a passing place because they have a stand. And that stand is for being courteous on the road. And what actually happens there, the other driver who was about to take up a position, his position immediately dissolves because there’s no counterposition, he just drives on his way. Meanwhile, the person who has taken a stand for being courteous on the roads, their stand is strengthened, it becomes more powerful.

Peter: And I use this sort of language when, as you mentioned, some years ago, my son, on reaching 18, he wanted to have a powerful Suzuki Bandit motorcycle, which could do 0 to 60 in about three and a half seconds, and go on to top about 130 miles an hour. Now, as a parent, I was worried about this. Patrick, one of his friends, had almost been killed on the narrow, twisty lanes around our house whilst riding his motorbike, so the last thing I wanted was for Patrick to get one of these motorcycles.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: And so immediately, I could see or feel my brain taking up a position against Patrick having that motorbike.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: And if I’d taken the conversation forward in that position, Patrick would’ve taken up a position against me because he really wanted that motorcycle.

Andy: Yep.

Peter: And we would become entrenched. But instead I thought, “Right, let’s dig deeper. What is it that’s behind this position of mine? What do I stand for?” And my stand is for my kids being safe and to be able to grow, yeah? So I approached the conversation from a place of a stand. I said, “Look, Patrick, I know that you want this motorcycle. I’m not going to stand in your way.” I said, “I’ll tell you what, we’ll both do the training. I’ll learn to ride a motorcycle with you,” okay? And here’s the only caveat, I said, “After we’ve done the minimum training and passed our test, we will go on, and together we’ll do the advanced motorcycling program that there is in this country, to become an advanced rider. And my son thought, “Oh, that sounds pretty cool. Yeah, I’m up for that.” So that’s what we did.

Peter: We even got a secondhand, beautiful, yellow Suzuki Bandit that sat in our shed, our garage whilst we were doing the training. And it drew us closer together. We had a great time. And halfway through the training, Patrick came to me, he said, “You know what?” He said, “I’ve been looking at this,” he said, “by the time I’ve paid for the insurance to be able to ride this motorcycle, I’m not actually going to be able to afford to put petrol, gas into it, he said, “so I won’t be able to go anywhere. So what I’m going to do is, I’m going to get a car instead. I hope that’s okay.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s cool.” And he went on to become an advanced driver in his car. Meanwhile, we sold on the Suzuki Bandit, without it ever having been ridden by either of us. But the point is, Andy, that if I’d taken up a position against him getting this bike, we’d have been at longer heads.

Andy: Totally.

Peter: But instead I took up a stand for him being safe, but also being able to have independence and get around, to explore as a late teenager. So that also opened up other opportunities. Our relationship took on a different facet, it got deeper. We had this opportunity of doing this training together. He opened his eyes to taking on advanced training whilst driving on the road. So this position and stand is really, really useful. And what I’d offer to people is, when you find yourself, as you will, inclined to take up a position against what your teenage son or daughter is about to do, or wants to do, take a moment and dig deeper. Flip over that coin and ask yourself, “What is my underlying stand here? What do I stand for? And how can I use that to have the conversations with my teenage son or daughter to create a different possibility that we can work on together?” So that’s the value of a position and a stand.

Andy: Ah, I love that. Yeah. And so often you feel yourself having that gut reaction of, “No, no, that is not okay.” But what are you really concerned about? What do you really care about? And we like it when people care about us, we don’t like it when people tell us what we can’t do.

Peter: That’s true, yeah. It’s just another way of looking at things. And in my experience, it helps us to find different solutions.

Andy: Okay. But so what’s the difference between a stand and a commitment? Are those the same thing?

Peter: They’re very similar. And talking about stands a little bit more, it dives into what drives us.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: And what’s really important. I open the book by talking about discovering what is really important to us.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: And I think before we try and influence our teenagers successfully, we really need to drill down on ourselves as parents, what is really important to us as an individual?

Andy: Yeah, like our core values.

Peter: Yeah, although, hmm, I have an issue with values sometimes because values aren’t as fixed as we might like to think they are.

Andy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Peter: If you need to get to a meeting and you’re driving up to where the meeting is going to be, and you see the one last slot in the parking lot that’s available, and you see out the corner of your eye that someone else is going for that parking slot, chances are you’re going to dive in and grab that slot, yeah? And it might go against your value of being courteous to others, and you might beat yourself up over it afterwards, but no, you’re going to take that slot, okay? So values sometimes can flex depending on circumstances.

Andy: Yeah, right?

Peter: That’s why I like to talk more about drivers, what drives us? And that drivers are linked to stands, and stands are linked to commitments. So let me just unpack that a little bit.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: What we stand for and what drives us, we can identify that through the choices that we make through life. So I chose to go to university over 40 years ago now to study two subjects, computing and electronic engineering. I had no background in them whatsoever, but I was committed to doing that because, at the time, my parents didn’t have much money, they’d both lost their jobs, I didn’t want to be a financial burden on them. And I wanted to be able to get a job afterwards, that was well paid so I could help support them. Yeah?

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: So that choice started to highlight something that’s really important to me, which is not being a burden on others and being able to support others, right?

Andy: Right.

Peter: But then halfway through my college degree, something else happened in the world, which was the Falkland Islands, which is some islands in South Atlantic, those islands were invaded by Argentina. And this was in 1982, and the Argentinian regime imposed their will on people down there who considered themselves to be British. Now, for me, it was nothing to do with the politics. I found that I was absolutely incensed with this notion of someone forcing their will on others.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: So I left college halfway through my degree to join the Royal Air Force because I felt that by joining the Royal Air Force, I’d be part of a team who could help, in the future, take care of people who couldn’t help themselves. So another crossroads in life, and what that drew out in me is something that’s really important, which is a notion of mutual respect. So the reason I’m talking about all this and taking so much time, Andy, is because it’s really, really important when we’re bringing up kids.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: If we can get clear ourselves on what really matters to us, what’s really important to us, what are our stands? What’s going to drive us? Another example of a stand is, and what’s really important to us, is our family, right? A couple of years ago I had a phone call from my wife saying that she’d been involved in a car accident, and there was nothing that was going to get in my way to go in and supporting her. Nothing. I didn’t know what I was stepping into, I didn’t know what I would find. All I knew was that I would overcome anything that was in my way. It lights that fire inside of you. So when we could connect to other important things that can turn into stands, something that we are known for, that’s our character, we can then act on that, put them into action, and that’s when we can turn it into a commitment, something that we aren’t going to do.

Peter: Let’s take parenting. I can remember when I first had our first child, Louise. Did we know what we were doing? We hadn’t got a clue really. Were we absolutely committed? Totally. We were committed to taking on anything that was going to be thrown in our way to bring up our daughter, and later her brother, when he arrived. Nothing would’ve got in our way, yeah. Because it lights that fire, that energy inside of you. And that is why I think, as a parent, when we can be very clear on what we stand and for, what we believe in, and the commitments we make, our children will pick up on that. And it’s no surprise that my son, for example, he is now a Royal Navy helicopter pilot, and he helps people. His ambition is to become an air ambulance pilot because he wants to help people who can’t help themselves. So it kind of gets passed on. But unless we know what we stand for, what our commitments are as parents, our kids, they don’t have a roadmap. They don’t have that guidance. We’ve got to give them that framework.

Andy: And so is a commitment, something that you make within yourself, or you make with other people?

Peter: Some might think that a commitment is what we make to others, and that can be part of it.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: But actually, that commitment means nothing, unless it is a promise to ourselves. I could make a commitment to you, Andy, to pitch up for this podcast. And we’ve exchanged emails, we’ve set up the Zoom call, it’s on my calendar, that could be a commitment. But unless I’ve made that promise to myself, that I’m going to be here on time, actually a few minutes early, that commitment on the calendar means absolutely nothing. So commitment is all about making a promise to ourselves. In just the same way, there’s the vast majority of us make a promise to ourselves that we are going to give our kids the best possible upbringing we can, and give them every possibility and opportunity in life that we can, even if it means sacrificing something for ourselves. That’s what a commitment is, it’s a promise we make to ourself to carry through.

Andy: You talk in the book about responses versus reactions. Isn’t that kind of the same thing?

Peter: Some might think so, I have a different perspective. A reaction comes from our limbic system, it’s like when we step out into a road and there’s a car coming, we will jump back, we’ll react. And that’s good. But sometimes, particularly where emotions are concerned, and often that’s the case when we’re trying to lead our teenagers or bring them up, the way we react is not necessarily helpful. Go back to my example with Patrick and the motorbike. My reaction might have been to say, “No way are you going to get that bike. Dream on, my friend. Nothing like that’s going to happen.” big reaction, yeah. Would it have been helpful? Probably not.

Andy: I don’t think so.

Peter: He would’ve started to dig in and come up.

Andy: He’d have a reaction of his own, yeah.

Peter: Absolutely right. A response, however, is different. The response is more considered. So let me give this a flying context since I was a pilot. I can tell you, Andy, that on a big airplane, or on any airplane, if you ever have an engine fire, what happens is a big red light flashes and a very, very loud bell goes off. And there’s no way you can miss this as a pilot.

Andy: Right.

Peter: And your reaction would be. And without training, our limbic system would kick in, our freeze fight or flight reaction would kick in. So we can’t run off the airplane because that would make the passengers very unhappy if we’d left at that point, yeah?

Andy: Right.

Peter: There’s nothing for us to physically fight. And so without training, what would happen? We would freeze because we’ve got this input of a bright red light and a very loud bell in our ears. Our reaction would be to freeze, and that doesn’t help at all. So what we train to do is to respond appropriately, and the response has been worked out on the ground, way ahead, by experienced pilots, by engineers who know all the systems, and they’ve broken it down into a drill that we can and immediately go into. It’s called immediate actions, and we know exactly what to do. So in that moment where we freeze, our brain automatically goes into this really considered reaction, but we go into it instantly.

Peter: So how does this apply to parenting or any leadership situation?

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: It applies because we can anticipate occasions when we might react. Say, when our kids are smaller, four or five years old, and we take them to a fancy restaurant for a treat, there is a possibility that they’re going to knock a drink over. They’re going to knock their Coke over or water, or whatever it is.

Andy: Right.

Peter: Our reaction could be to scold them because we don’t want to be shown up in this restaurant as bad parents, that sort of narrative will go through our mind.

Andy: Right.

Peter: But we can prepare for that and we can respond better. We can respond by not scolding them, by recognizing that accidents do happen. And really, it’s not a big deal.

Andy: Hmm.

Peter: And that then is likely to give us a better outcome. And so it is with teenagers, when our teenage daughter decides to go out in clothing with her group of friends and we think, “No way should you be going out in that.”

Andy: You are now leaving the house wearing that.

Peter: There you got it, yeah. But we can anticipate that and we can anticipate the emotions that will generate inside of us, and have a more considered response to that situation. Like other distinctions in language, the reaction and the response, it gives it a different way of acting. And we can make sure that we come from a place of love rather than a place of fear. Everything that’s important to us is driven only by love of or fear. And we have a choice as to which we allow to drive us and how that then affects, in this case, people like our teenagers.

Andy: Yeah, I think in general, that’s a lot of what we do here on the podcast, is think about different situations ahead of time. It allows you to approach things in a more thought-out way, and less of a just going with your emotional first reaction to things.

Peter: Yeah, but I’d also say, Andy, as parents, don’t be too hard on ourselves.

Andy: Yeah.

Peter: We’ll screw up, course we will. But you know what? That’s okay. What’s most important as a parent, and in any leadership situation, is not the individual data points, it’s two other things. It’s the trend over time. Are we heading general in the direction that we want to be? Are we sharing with our kids what we feel is really important in life, and how to behave as human beings, how to interact with society? Are we sharing those things more often than not? It’s the trend that’s important. And the other thing is our intention. Where are we coming from? What’s our intent? Is our intent to lift them up or to push them down? Is our intent to respond our love or to react out of fear? It’s our intention and the trend that matters.

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About Peter Docker

Peter Docker is the author of Leading From the Jumpseat.  In 2017, Docker co-authored his first book Find Your Why. He served for 25 years as a Royal Air Force senior officer, has been a Force Commander during combat flying operations and has seen service across the globe. His career spanned from professional pilot, to leading an aviation training and standards organization, teaching postgraduates at the UK’s Defence College, to flying the British prime minister around the world. Peter has also served as a crisis manager and former international negotiator for the UK government.  

After his service, Peter’s work as a trained leadership consultant and executive coach has covered the most senior levels in a variety of sectors, working for companies like Google, Four Seasons Hotels, Accenture, American Express, ASOS, and NBC Universal.It has been translated into more than 25 languages and has sold over 420,000 copies. 

Peter lives with his wife Claire in Oxfordshire and has two grown children from whom he learns a great deal!

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