“A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many maths and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it to. Well I can tell them, because I’ve done it.” writes Amy Chua.
“Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” both bothered me and stirred my thinking. The mothers’ overbearing, domineering, abusive and demanding behaviour, beginning from a very early age with both her daughters, struck me as counter to every healthy developmental instinct I have. Yet, by all accounts in the book, both children became extremely successful academically and musically.
Chua writes “My Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments thirty minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.”
During a recent corporate team development workshop, I introduced this book to the group. Simply reading the back cover to them was enough to stir interest, shock and controversy. In the context of the team exploring what it means to ‘be the best’, the Tiger Mother represents an extreme example of ambition and drive toward excellence at all cost.
Playing with that extreme, we asked the question ‘what would a Tiger Mother demand of the team’. The lens proved fun and useful, taking our thinking beyond comfortable and mundane goals. When later translated back to a more realistic and feasible stretch, there was still no doubt the exercise had been valuable.
A leader I once worked with liked to say “all progress comes from the unreasonable man”. His high standards and continual demand for more and better performance definitely propelled the business forward and drew the best out of some of his team. To me there was an obvious cost to him personally and to many in his team (high stress). Longer term, the sustainability of the enterprise and it’s performance, will be evidence of whether the Tiger Boss approach is effective.
One parting gift from the book was a conscious nudge to remember to press my kids for 30 minutes of music practice each day … Tabby Dad!