By now, most of you would be familiar with Yale Law School professor, Amy Chua, and her infamous essay about the merits of Chinese parenting.
In the article, Chua describes how her two daughters were never allowed, among other things, to have a playdate, be in a school play, get any grade less than an A or play any instrument other than the piano or violin.
Her views have created a huge stir in the blogosphere, with one describing her style of parenting as "paradigmatic child abuse" while another asked if she could still be hauled up by child protective services.
Personally, I think Chua's intention was misunderstood. The tone of her essay was meant to be self-deprecating and she clearly stated she wasn't championing one style of parenting over another--she was simply describing her own. Chua's biggest fault was probably that her sense of humor in the essay didn't come off...paradigmatic.
I do wonder, though, if the Asian style of parenting as Chua describes, will be effective in the workplace. Or is it an employee-inspired lawsuit waiting to happen?
One of the key responsibilities department managers have is to guide and groom their junior team members. However, the art of training is not easy to master when you're dealing with different personalities, unequal level of skills, and yes, egos.
Today, it seems increasingly difficult to critique the work of younger post-Internet workers who are often deemed to have inflated egos and are overpoweringly confident.
They like to take the shortest route and demand the biggest rewards, at minimum effort. And because of that, not every Gen Y employee can handle the work demands as well improvements they'll need to carry out to get the rewards they seek.
And not every worker, regardless of age, can take criticism well. So should managers go as far as Chua did when pushing their charges to achieve the best results possible?
In her essay, Chua wrote that Western parents are more concerned about their children's psyches and self-esteem. Chinese parents, on the other hand, aren't. "[Chinese parents] assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently," she said.
But, the human ego can be extremely fragile. Pushed to the limits like Chua did with her younger daughter when she struggled to master a piano piece, workers could very well crumble and throw in the towel. Unlike the young Chua who cannot choose her parent, employees can choose to quit or the company may have to deal with a staff mutiny.
But while employees will probably enjoy having managers who are so hands-off that they never fuss over any work their team members submit, without the relevant feedback and post-mortem, how can workers know where they've gone wrong and improve? More importantly, how will they know if their work can stand just as well against others in the open market?
In a letter she wrote in defense of her mother, Chua's elder daughter said her upbringing wasn't about achievement or self-gratification. "It's about knowing that you've pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential."
Just enough is never enough.
I think that should be the primary objective of any workplace: to encourage and help employees realize the fullest of their potential, even if it may sometimes mean pushing them to their limits.
And how managers do that is a constant learning process. Mistakes will be inevitable along the way.
Just like parenting styles, there really isn't a right or wrong answer because every family is different and every child-parent relationship unique. Likewise, every worker is different and how you manage each one will also be different.
And while Chua's style of parenting probably stretches the definition of tough love to an extreme, it clearly still involves genuine love for her child. At a book signing in San Francisco this week, she admitted about her child management skills: "If I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing, with some adjustments." Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, isn't it?