Five Leadership Lessons From My Kids

They aren’t leaders now, at least not in the traditional sense, but they are neverending sources of inspiration for me. These are five of the hardest lessons I learned from them.

1) If people don’t want to play with you, it might be more about them than you.

Oh, the tears when someone chose not to invite my offspring to a play date or party! But then they grew up and gained some perspective. Thanks to social media, some are reconnecting, some are owning up to past, often mutual slights, and they are demonstrating that reconciliation – even if it takes a long rime – is possible.

Leadership Lesson: It’s more important to be true to yourself than it is to be popular.

2) Sometimes being silly is more effective than being serious.

Oh, how they loved Dr. Seuss! I can still recite most of Hop on Pop, which just shows you how effective repetition is. But buried within the silly was always something really important, worth remembering and worth trying to apply in everyday life. Respect for others, for instance, which despite the silliness, was a recurring takeaway from the writings of the late Theodor Seuss Geisel.

Leadership Lesson: Make your message meaningful and memorable so it sticks around long enough to make a difference.

3) It’s important to know the rules other people are trying to follow, even if no one follows them perfectly.

Life is a little like a square dance. Sometimes you don’t know which way to go till someone calls out directions. But, not so for my Time Warp girl. (For those unfamiliar with Rocky Horror, Time Warp is a dance…sort of.) She knew the steps so well that even after midnight, she could redirect those who got lost.

Leadership Lesson: Leading is only occasionally about where the team is going. Usually it’s about where the team is, how it’s doing, and helping it do better. 

4) The best rewards are the ones that make people feel good.

As the parenting myth goes, treating your kids fairly means treating them equally. This leads to a lot of parenting strategies like what to do when there’s only one piece of cake left and the kids are fighting over it. (One kid divides the cake, the other chooses first.) The trouble with this strategy is that equal quantities may not be what either really wants. Imagine how blessed I felt when I realized that one of my kids preferred the whites of hard-boiled eggs and the other preferred the yolks!

Leadership Lesson: Forget about ‘fair’ and reward people with what they like best. This might require extra effort, but the results will be worth it.

 5) You don’t need to fix everything. Sometimes it’s best just to tolerate and wait.

Inevitably, there are times when all the perfection you wish for as a parent dissolves into tears. Sometimes it’s the kids who have wet faces. Sometimes it’s you. It used to happen a lot on those enforced togetherness adventures called ‘family vacation.’ Two kids and a dog in the back of a station wagon, three days from New York to Florida. Are you getting the picture? When Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Hell is other people,” you’d swear he was describing that very trip.

Leadership Lesson: Remember that stress happens in times both good and bad. That way, you’ll be able to anticipate it, make others ready for it, and keep the peace when it hits. 

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