What Supernanny can teach entrepreneurs about leadership | AccountingWEB

What Supernanny can teach entrepreneurs about leadership

• Supernanny offers lessons in business turnaround/performance management
• Her simple formula is observation/feedback/coach followed by recognition/reward/discipline
• Rather than leaping in with solutions, spend a day or more observing
• Supernanny is not afraid of having uncomfortable but courageous conversations
• Are your rewards relevant and meaningful for the individuals?

What can a reality TV personality tell us about leadership? Owen Smith argues that Supernanny could teach entrepreneurs a thing or two.

Jo Frost, aka TV’s Supernanny, could easily make the leap into business turnaround/performance management coaching if she wanted. OK, so I’m not suggesting that she starts putting the finance director on the 'Naughty Step', or has a reward chart in boardroom for the CEO to stick coloured squares onto, but there are lots of parallels between what she achieves with dysfunctional families and maximising performance within organisations.

Her tried and tested formula works wonders, but is flexible enough to be tailored to the needs of the family and the individuals within it. If you haven’t ever watched it, you can catch it on 4oD, Channel 4 or Discovery Home & Health. Her formula is simple – in a nutshell, it is ‘guidance’ – observation/feedback/coach, coupled with ‘consequences’ - recognition and reward/discipline.


1. Observation
Rather than leaping in with solutions, she spends a day or more observing and getting a feel for the family dynamic, and gathering examples to enable her to give really effective data-based feedback.

Key leadership lesson:Look before you leap!

It’s all very well going in with bluster for maximum impact, but unless you allow time to really take in the bigger picture, you could end up getting it very wrong indeed, and merely alienate your ‘audience’.

2. Feedback
Supernanny is not afraid of having those uncomfortable but courageous conversations. She is direct and honest, and backs up what she is saying with what she has been seeing. She also explains what is missing, giving clarity on what is acceptable and the correct course of action.

Key leadership lesson:Moral courage!

When giving feedback, have the courage to tell people when they fall short of expectations, backed up with specific, real and objective evidence (gathered during the ‘observation’ stage). In addition, be absolutely clear on what is acceptable behaviour/performance.

3. Coach
The purists might argue that it’s not true coaching that she uses, but she is very effective at blending a more directive approach when necessary and then stepping back and asking open questions to empower the parents to come up with their own answers. But perhaps more importantly, she teaches and encourages the parents to share a consistent approach, and also be rigorous in its application, however difficult and draining this may be. She actually starts the ‘coaching’ ball rolling during the feedback stage, where she asks the family, both parents and kids, what they would like to change and how they would like to be in the future.

Key leadership lesson:Persistence and consistency!

The moment you lapse and ‘allow’ sub-standard performance or behaviour to go unchecked with no feedback (and therefore tacit acceptance), you’re starting to build a mountain for you to climb in order to get back on track. In order to embed the new improved ‘habits’ it requires a large degree of resilience on the part of the leader – don’t expect miracles overnight. Allow your people to make mistakes, but use them as learning experiences so they don’t make them again. Finally, create and agree a unified vision with the team/individual. Without this buy-in, your mountain will become a sheer cliff-face.


4. Recognition and reward
The use of highly visible and visually stimulating ‘reward charts’, often themed around the children’s specific interests, helps to keep their focus on what they should be doing, and recognises the progress being made with milestone rewards along the way. When Mum and Dad’s behaviour is the root cause of the problem, they sometimes are also represented on the reward charts themselves.

Key leadership lesson:Make it meaningful and keep it visible!

Having a reward scheme is only the first step – are the rewards relevant and meaningful for the individuals, and do they know what they need to do to achieve this? Years ago, I worked for a well-known fast-food chain, which on the whole had a fairly young workforce. For winning ‘Employee of the Month’, they would offer a £20 Argos voucher. There never seemed to be much excitement about this until one day we offered a choice – they could swap this for a £20 HMV voucher instead. From that day, I do not remember ever giving out any more Argos vouchers. Draw your own conclusions…!

5. Discipline
There is always a consequence to bad behaviour. The legendary ‘naughty step’ being the most common, where the misbehaving child has to go and spend an allotted amount of time after suitable verbal warnings have been given, is a highly effective sanction. This will always end with an apology, but before this Mum or Dad reiterate why the punishment was handed out, for absolute clarity. It takes only very few stints on the naughty step before you can see a real difference in behaviour and immediate response to warnings. However, it should be noted that as soon as the parents misuse the naughty step, they are chastised and corrected by Ms Frost!

Key leadership lessonFair and reasonable!

Deal with the specific behaviour or the performance in question, never the individual. There is nearly always a ‘pain barrier’ to go through when first disciplining poor behaviour or performance that has gone unchecked in the past – in the business world be ready for appeals and grievances, in addition to tantrums! However, if you can combine being fair and reasonable with the persistence and consistency displayed when coaching, you’ll see real results and earn respect.

Finally, please don’t think I’m trying to say that leaders should treat their workforce like a bunch of kids (tempting as this may sound!), but there are some clear parallels to be drawn between the Supernanny approach to turning round dysfunctional families and driving and improving performance in business.

In summary...


1. Observation – Look before you leap!

2. Feedback – Moral courage!

3. Coach – Persistence and consistency!


4. Recognition and Reward – Make it meaningful and keep it visible!

5. Discipline - Fair and reasonable!

Owen Smith is learning & development partner at Bhs.

This blog

AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too. Members of our British team who publish AccountingWEB.co.uk share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.

More from this blog

Bloggers crew

Steve Knowles has spent 25 years in business and practice in the UK, but he also worked in the states and the years haven't dulled his way of seeing an alternative view to everyone else, and every day is a new adventure.


Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies.


Allan Boress, CPA, with over 25 years as a practitioner and consultant to the accounting profession. Mr. Boress is the author of 12 published books in 6 different languages, including a best-seller, The "I-Hate-Selling" Book.


Larry Perry, CPA, CPA Firm Support Services, LLC, is the author of accounting and auditing manuals, author and presenter of live staff training seminars, and author of webcast and self-study CPE programs. He blogs about small audits, reviews, and compilations.

Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.

Maria Calabrese, CIR, Human Resources manager for Fazio, Mannuzza, Roche, Tankel, LaPilusa, LLC in Cranford, New Jersey, Maria's topics revolve around the world of: Mentoring, Performance management, and The "Y Generation," a.k.a. "The whY generation".


William Brighenti is a CPA, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and Certified [Business] Valuation Analyst, operating an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting firm in Hartford, Connecticut, Accountants CPA Hartford.


Ken Garen, CPA, is the co-founder and President of Universal Business Computing Company (www.ubcc.com), a software development firm of high-volume, high-productivity accounting and payroll technology.


Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.


Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP is the CPA Programs Leader for Intacct Corporation responsible for leading the CPA/BPO Partners nationally.

Brian Strahle is the owner of LEVERAGE SALT, LLC where he provides state and local tax technical services to accounting firms, law firms and tax research organizations across the United States. He also writes a weekly column in Tax Analysts State tax Notes entitled, "The SALT Effect." For more info, visit his website: www.leveragestateandlocaltax.com
Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is president of Cytron and Company, known for helping companies and organizations improve their bottom line through a hybrid of strategic public relations, communications, marketing programs and top-notch client service. An accredited consultant, Scott works with companies, organizations and individuals in professional services (accounting, finance, medical, legal, engineering), high-tech and B2B/B2C product/service sales.

Rita Keller is a nationally known CPA firm management consultant, speaker, author, mentor and blogger. She has over 30 years hands-on experience in CPA firm management, marketing, technology and administrative operations.

Stacy Kildal is the mom of two fantastic kids, an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Enterprise Solutions ProAdvisor, Sleeter Group Certified Consultant, a nationally recognized member of the Intuit Trainer and Writer Network, and co-host of RadioFree QuickBooks.
Michael Alter's blog specializes in providing practical advice to those who seek greater profitability and practice management tactics that enhance deeper client relationships.

Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, leads a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.


The IMA Young Professionals Blog features the insights of IMA’s Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.


FEI Financial Reporting Blog provides highlights from SEC, PCAOB, FASB, IASB, and other regulatory news, including reporting under Sarbanes-Oxley Sect 404. It is written by Edith Orenstein, Director of Technical Policy Analysis at FEI.


Sue Anderson has 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently she is the program director for online CPE provider CPE Link.


Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.

Caleb Newquist is the Editor-in-Chief of Sift Media US, overseeing content for both AccountingWEB and Going Concern.

Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of "The Yellow Book Interpreted" and owner of Yellowbook-CPE.com a website devoted to training for governmental auditors.


AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too! Members of our British team who publish AccountingWEB.co.uk share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.