6 Things my Three-Year-Old Taught Me about Leadership

August 17, 2012 — Leave a comment

Like nothing else, kids can make us feel emotionally schizophrenic. But if you stop long enough to think, their is a lot of wisdom you catch while raising the next generation. This happened to me the other day. My wife called me with a story that made me laugh and at the same time provoked some really deep thinking.

She and the kids had been outside playing in mud puddles created by a rain storm that just blew through.

Learning from our kids

Naturally, the boys had worked up a man sized appetite. Like any good mom Cherie loaded them up in the car for a fun trip to ChicFilA. After some food, the playground and WAY too many screaming kids, she was ready to head home for some much deserved down time. Caleb, our 3 year old, left the playground while Cherie rounded up the other two. She assumed he was just waiting near the door of the restaurant as he normally did. But this time she went out and he wasn’t there. Looking outside she sees his blonde head standing next to the truck (where he’d had to cross the parking lot to get to – a big no-no). Reminding herself to be calm, she went out. And the following conversation took place:

Cherie: (Kneeling down to get on his level.) “Caleb, buddy. You can NOT just walk out of a store and cross the street without me. You could have been hurt. I was so scared!”

Caleb: “Don’t worry, mommy. I looked both ways and didn’t see ANY cars! So I just came to the truck and waited patiently for you.” (Flashing a proud smile)

Cherie: (With a mixture of tears from being scared and a laugh from such a grown up attitude from a 3 year old) “I get that buddy and you did do a great job. But you still need to wait on me to be with you. You’re not old enough to do that by yourself. You could just miss something and get hurt.”

Caleb: (Putting his hand on mommy’s shoulder and cocking his head to the side) “Don’t be frustrated mommy…I’m capable!”

At this point the conversation ended because Cherie was having to work so hard to stifle the laughter.

When we got off the phone from her telling me this story, I sat back in my chair and just smiled. I love my kids! But then as I thought about it more I realized there was a wealth of application for my work as a leader. Here’s some of the ones I wrote down:

  • Communicate the Goal…And the dangers that could keep us from them. Caleb made the choice he made because he only understood one part of the goal – get to the truck. What he didn’t understand was that there were other dangers that could keep that from happening safely. If all we do is cast the vision without discussing the obstacles we face in getting there we may be setting our teams up for a fall.
  • We Replicate What We Repeat. We constantly tell Caleb he is a very capable boy, to be patient and to look both ways before crossing the street! Whatever you want your culture to be, you’ll have to find ways to say it all the time in various ways.
  • People are more capable than we realize. I would have NEVER guessed Caleb could carry on that complex of an interaction with Cherie. Reading her, intuiting how she felt and why she was concerned and dialogging in such precise words and phrases. We need to pause from time to time to reassess those around us. Chances are they’ve grown since the last time you did that. (If they haven’t, we have a different leadership challenge.)
  • Genuine Care Changes the Interaction. Caleb could take his mom’s admonishment without feeling attacked because he knows without question her love. If we really care about the people we work with the moments of confrontation that inevitably happen can be received with appreciation because they know the source of the confrontation is a heart that is for them.
  • Rules become outdated. At different phases of an organization’s growth different rules are needed. But at some point, the rules need changing not stall out the momentum because the people’s and the organization’s capacities have changed. It may take wisdom and/or outside input to know when that time has come. (We’ve not reached the threshold of letting our 3 year old cross the road alone!)
  • Celebrate Direction, Not just Results. I was so proud of Caleb for the way he handled himself and for his attitude and independence. Even when people are dead wrong, if their intentions are pure and their attitudes are good we should try to rejoice with them where we can and then constructively offer advice on how to improve the next time. Fast moving people will get off course from time to time. But it’s easier to steer someone back on course than it is to get them moving in the first place. Don’t kill momentum!

I really believe if we treat our work like we treat our families (or whatever relationships you cherish), work would be a lot better and home would be a lot more engaging. We’d learn lessons from both that we’d apply to the other. We’d feel a lot more like we’re living integrated lives and have a sense of unity few ever experience. And hey, in building the story of our lives, having a unified life makes for a much richer story.

So from one man to a little bit smaller man, thanks Caleb. You’re a great teacher.

Noel Coleman

Noel Coleman

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Aspiring recipient of the "Best Husband/Daddy in the World" coffee mug | Strategy & Sales Leader | Curious Person

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