Jack is 12. Kate is 20. They remain my best leadership lab: I study their behaviors, and study myself acting in response. I like family leadership, because it’s real, raw, unpretentious, yet the stakes are high. This week the two reminded me that it’s important to exercise my authority. I mean “exercise” both in the sense of using it, but also in the sense of practicing it like a craft. I, as much as my children, am a work in progress, and so I am always recalibrating.
Our little man has been an amazing leader in our home, honing his native skills of emotional intelligence. For instance, when one of his friendly interruptions provokes one of my impatient eruptions he’ll be quite direct: “Geez, Dad,” he’ll say, “seems like you’re pretty wound up today.” He stops me in my tracks. Or, when Jen comes home from another day of battle in Lansing, he’ll say, “Let’s watch American Idol,” and then back it up by offering a shared vision of how things can be: “We need to lighten things up around here. Life doesn’t have to be so serious, you guys.” His sensitivity, humor and kindness have lifted us a hundred times over. (For our part, we thank him, recognize the vital role he plays, and also try to tell him in words and action, that it’s not his job to take care of us.) There’s no doubt that he’s often leading up.
Kate has also been an extraordinary teacher. She’s an analytic, objective, impartial, and skeptical thinker who has helped me to see that my way was not the only highway. She and I are so different and she has gone toe-to-toe with me on numerous occasions to make me aware that my “truths” are limited by my assumptions and biases. I have really learned to respect her differences and I look forward to car rides back to college when I can learn from her.
They are also still our children, and we are not afraid to exercise our moral and occasionally penal 🙂 authority – key tools of leadership. And I chose to exercise authority this week. (Their ages – and my respect for them – necessitate me withholding the details of what follows, but any parent or supervisor can fill in the blanks from their own experience.) Both acted in ways – one overt, and the other more covert – that exhibited defiance. And I called them each out. It would have been way more convenient and peaceful to ignore the stuff. Objectively, it was minor. But in their continued development, it had to do with character. And character, like values, is never minor.
We all need people to call us out and call us to a higher standard, to be our best. As parents and bosses we FAIL when we don’t give people feedback about falling short, counsel about why it matters (for them and us), and help for them to locate a path forward that works for them. Especially when it has to do with character. You might examine what you’re tolerating in the way of behavior that falls short of what you, your family or organization, and especially they themselves deserve. Initiate direct, calm, and loving conversations to
Lead with your best self,