Level 5 Leadership when parenting a child who has an eating disorder

In most cases, being a “good enough” parent is just fine. But if your child becomes afflicted with an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, you need to take your parenting from good to great to help him or her heal.

The good news is that the key element that’s missing from your toolbox is not more time and physical effort. You do not need to work HARDER as a parent. Instead, you need to learn how you can work SMARTER to help everyone in the family heal.

Jim Collins is well known for his research into what it takes to transform a company from “good” to “great.” He studies organizations and noted several key differences between the good companies and the great companies. His book, Good to Great examined these differences.

One of the keys noted in great companies was their leaders. Specifically, companies that made the transition from good to great had a “Level 5 Leader.”

Collins was surprised when he identified Level 5 Leaders, because they did not behave like we expect the best business leaders to behave. They were not superstars or incredibly charismatic. They did not present themselves as smarter or better than others. They were not better organizers or known for years of business school. They were not arrogant.

Instead, he found that Level 5 Leaders who are able to transform a company from good to great have humility, and are operating from a powerful ambition for the good of the company, not the good of themselves. Because of their belief in the inherent skills and capabilities already within their organizations, they are fearless when it comes to taking effective action during challenging times.

As parents, we feel a lot of pressure to be great managers, or low-level leaders. Managers are responsible for making things happen. They buy supplies and schedule tasks and get people from A to B along a straight path.

You have been doing this since your kids were born. You plan great birthday parties, make sure they show up to school, and drive them all over town to practices, games and playdates. Such management is physically exhausting, but it’s not usually intellectually challenging.

But being a great manager in your family will only get you so far. When dealing with an eating disorder, your family needs you to elevate your parenting to Level 5 Leadership.

When you become a Level 5 Leader in your family, you provide your children with the guidance they need to perform at higher levels, which leads to greater success at school, in sports, at home, and when they battle an eating disorder.

Here are some key things to learn about making the transition to being a Level 5 Leader in your family:

level-5-leadership-21. Develop humility
So many times as parents, we feel we must be in control. We need to tell our kids what to do and when to do it, otherwise how will anything possibly get done?

To learn humility as a parent, you must learn that your kids are their own individual human beings, who have minds and talents and skills. When you develop humility, you recognize that you can honor your child’s uniqueness, and in no way does it impact their faith in you. In fact, the more you truly respect who they are, the more they will respect you.

You can also be humble when it comes to the eating disorder itself. Eating disorders take a powerful hold on the mind, and we must respect them for their power, even as we fight them valiantly. Entrenched eating disorders are not open to quick, simple fixes. Our humility allows us to endure the long haul required to beat them.

2. Ask for help
One of the things Collins noticed is that sometimes outsiders consider Level 5 Leaders “weak” because they ask for help. But the ability to reach out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it always leads to better outcomes.

Eating disorders are complex, and your guidance and love will be critical along the path to healing, but don’t hesitate to reach out to people who know more than you do about treating the disorder. Getting help is essential to supporting your child’s healing.

Asking for help in battling an eating disorder is not limited to medical professionals and therapists who will treat your child. You may need help from other parents when you have a therapy appointment that coincides with another one of your kids’ soccer game. You may need help from a friend in the middle of the night when you feel hopeless and ashamed and need to talk about it. You may need help from your parents in explaining how family gatherings need to be adjusted in light of the eating disorder. The ability to reach out for and accept help when you need it could be your single greatest asset in managing this disorder.

3. Take responsibility
Collins says that Level 5 Leaders look in the mirror when things go wrong, and out the window when things go right. This does not mean that you should ever blame yourself for your child’s eating disorder. There are so many genetic and environmental components contributing to eating disorders, and your shame and blame will not do your child any good along the road to healing. This is not your fault!

However, you can take the time to look in the mirror and reflect on ways in which you can improve as a parent who has a child with an eating disorder. We can all improve. There is no perfect parent in the whole world. We are all struggling to do our best. The difference is not that a Level 5 Leader thinks she can achieve perfection, but that she consistently takes responsibility for small improvements over which she has control.

While looking in the mirror, you may recognize that you have some disordered eating patterns of your own. Or perhaps you have struggled with body dissatisfaction. Or maybe you suffer from depression that you just haven’t had the time to treat. Take responsibility for developing, educating and healing yourself, and the benefits will be felt by the whole family.

4. Develop discipline
Level 5 Leaders are great disciplinarians where it matters. When they commit to a goal, no matter how difficult it is, they stick to their resolve. The energy behind their resolve is not that they will poke and prod their employees to achieve greatness, but rather that they believe their employees are capable of achieving greatness and they will work alongside them in the spirit of mutual passion.

It’s important to note here that Level 5 Leaders do not stick to a single way in which they must achieve their goal. If the goal is to get to the store, you can load your team into the car and head out. But if the car breaks down, the Level 5 Leader is not deterred; he finds a bus. When the bus starts heading the wrong way, he does not despair – he gets his people off the bus and starts walking with them. Whatever it takes, he maintains his leadership and gets his team to the destination.

Eating disorder recovery is not usually a straight path. There is no single guaranteed way to achieve healing. Something that works for a while might stop working. The key is discipline towards healing your child, and being open to different ways to achieve that goal.

5. Build a great team
Level 5 Leaders make sure that they get the right people on their team, and the wrong people off their team. Even if they might personally like a team member, they are brutally honest about whether that team member is contributing to the greater good of the organization.

You might need to build a team of therapists, nutritionists, yoga instructors, coaches, medical doctors, and more to achieve healing for your child. As a Level 5 Leader, you must be diligent in recognizing when one team member is not working well with the others.

You might find that you like someone, but your child does not. You have to constantly evaluate the people who are influencing your child’s healing process, and build a team that makes sense for your whole family and the ultimate goal of healing.

You Can Do This!

Level 5 Leaders are rare, but they do indeed exist everywhere. They are in the boardroom, on the field, in classrooms and in homes. Your Level 5 Leadership will make a huge impact on every single member of your family, not just the child who has an eating disorder. By striving towards Level 5 Leadership, you can take control of a situation that feels overwhelming. You cannot control your child, and you cannot control ED, but you can make a difference by being a Level 5 Leader.


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Read the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t

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