Does having a "Tiger Mom" impact your career?

By Robert Half on 2 December 2016

Known as one of today’s most controversial books about parenting, the Wall Street Journal describes Amy Chua’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom’  as a strict, no-nonsense parenting approach that demands nothing but the best from her children, pushing them to their limits of excellence.

The effects of ‘tiger mom’ parenting on children and adolescents have been well-documented – but how the effect translates into adulthood and a career is still relatively undiscussed.

In this blog, we explore some of the possible impacts that the ‘tiger mom’ approach could have on a professional’s career.

Having a tiger mom can have its career benefits

A work ethic to succeed

Individuals raised by tiger moms are taught to perform to the best of their abilities, settling for nothing less.

According to an IT professional and entrepreneur that Robert Half spoke to, this is precisely what makes ‘tiger cubs’ successful in their careers: “People who grow up under a ‘tiger mom’ develop self-motivation to strive for their best in everything. In a career setting, this makes them competitive professionals who want to stay ahead of the game.”

Amy Chua’s eldest daughter, Sophia, attributes her current achievements to her ‘tiger mom’ in the New York Post: “Part of [living a meaningful life] is knowing that you’ve pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential. If I were to die tomorrow, I would die feeling I’ve lived my whole life at 110 percent.”

Helps employees to understand and appreciate authority

Besides being the ones who decide on your salary, bosses and managers play a significant role in your professional development. As such, it is important for employees to develop a respectful understanding of those who they report to. Michael Araneta, research director for IDC Financial Insights and country manager for IDC Research Thailand, thinks that a ‘tiger mom’ upbringing will do just that.

He explains: “Candidates brought up under a tiger mom understand what authority structures are in the safe environment of home. You get to learn what rules, consequences and outcomes are before you step into the workplace.”

Learning to deal with established rules early in life can help professionals understand how to deal with authority figures in the workplace. Respecting and learning from good bosses, while setting appropriate boundaries with bad ones, are essential soft skills that can help develop your career.

An initiative to demonstrate productivity

Those raised by a ‘tiger mom’ often have full schedules: besides school and tuition, they are often enrolled for sports, music and other skills classes. To get on top of their busy schedules, ‘tiger cubs’ are often motivated to develop effective time management skills from a young age.

The ability to manage deadlines and prioritise important tasks are essential for a successful career. Professionals who managed a schedule since a young age would most likely find it easier to juggle project tasks when they enter the employment market. With these time management skills in tow, they are more likely to hit the ground running quickly and manage high workloads efficiently. Our IT entrepreneur quoted earlier comments that this self-motivation would be beneficial towards a career.

Although these skills are not necessarily only applicable to those who were raised by a Tiger Mom, this strict upbringing usually translate to high internal standards. As such, these professionals can deliver high quality work, which makes them a valuable asset for any company.

Could tiger mom parenting backfire on one’s career?

It can reduce confidence in one’s abilities

Although ‘tiger cubs’ can become highly successful professionals, the after-effects of strict ‘tiger mom’ parenting may manifest itself in long- standing doubts towards one’s abilities.

This phenomenon appears to have affected even the original tiger mom herself. Although an accomplished lawyer, Amy Chua – who admitted she was raised by ‘tiger’ parents – told The Careerist that she ‘felt like a fraud while pretending to be a lawyer’ all the time. Despite being trained for a successful career in law, Chua had ended up in a career she didn’t enjoy.

There is the potential for professionals who were raised under ‘tiger moms’ to develop what is known as an ‘impostor syndrome’ - a term describing people who, while successful, believe deep down that they are not where they belong. Professionals can become less assertive and overly self-critical, which in-turn hampers their career progression.

‘Tiger managers’ are not the most effective

Besides affecting professionals at a personal level, the effects of ‘tiger mom’ parenting can also affect other people in an organisation. Our IT entrepreneur expressed concerns about this: “If a ‘tiger cub’ inherits his or her parent’s style of parenting and applies it in the workplace, he/she might become an unrealistically tough manager. This isn’t good for team morale.”

Although tiger mom parenting might work well at home, it may not carry well entirely into the corporate world. ‘Tiger cub’ professionals who adopt a ‘tiger mom’ approach in the workplace may become ‘authoritarian’ leaders, an approach that would not suit the more collaborative work model that is promoted in many organisations. Our IT entrepreneur remarked, “Such behaviour is not a leadership quality that is encouraged within the corporate world today.”

Creates an unhealthy pursuit of perfection

‘Perfectionist’ is a word often heard in the workplace. According to an article by CNN, an unhealthy kind of perfectionism can be self-destructive on a career.

Perfectionistic tendencies can lead professionals to doubt their own work – a trait that is often counterproductive to delivering on tasks. “While confidence can become an issue, professionals raised with tiger moms may also lack self-esteem, as most of their motivation is driven by fear,” says our IT entrepreneur.

This CNN article also highlighted that perfectionism isn’t always good for business – with the behaviour often coming across as “superficial, common or uncreative.” While rote learning (a technique well attested by Chua in her book) is useful for technical skills such as mathematics, this model can struggle when innovation and ‘thinking outside the box’ is increasingly valued in a fast-paced business world.

Professionals who were told at a young age to not colour outside the lines may carry that frame of thinking into their careers – reducing their ability to stand out in their industry with new ideas and innovations.

‘Tiger mom’ parenting: Different strokes for different folks

With both positive and negative ramifications, the ‘tiger mom’ approach is not necessarily for everyone.

Some individuals may thrive under this demanding upbringing and become successful, highly motivated professionals. Others on the other hand, may cave under the pressure exerted on them by their ‘tiger moms’, carrying self-doubt and confidence issues into their careers.

Whether or not candidates grew up with a Tiger Mom, career development remains typically at the top of most priority lists. Each individual will have to eventually on their own overcome hurdles and understand their character traits, both the good and not so good.

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