Don’t Let ‘Em Suck You In! Leaders Fight Back

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Lord, it would be funny if it weren’t so crazy. How do we nurture everyday leaders?

Better start here: Realize it’s a 24-7 job to push back. Cuz if you’re a parent, teacher, CEO, preacher, boss or head of just about anything, they’re going to expect you to take care of just about everything.

Jack’s AP US History teacher invited parents to a Saturday morning meeting. OK. So, that’s awesome right? Incredible “customer service,” fantastic dedication to her kids’ learning that she’d invite us to come in on a Saturday morning to help set them up for success. Now, “back in the day” when Mom and Dad had eight kids and teachers had 30 kids, before we could watch their homework and quiz results online period-by-period, KIDS WERE EXPECTED TO LEAD THEMSELVES!

And this AP teacher told us this story: She gave a unit test a couple years ago. First period. Third period. Fifth period – same test. During the 5th period administration, a student says, “the test is asking about pages 180-200, but we’re only up to 160.” “You’re right” she said, and wondered: Did 50 kids really take a test, and not one of them say a word about her testing them on something they hadn’t covered? So, she wants us to tell them:  Speak up!

We came home and had a good meeting to talk to Jack about how HE was going to drive his junior year.  And how we want to back off.  It will take a lot from all of us.  Because we leaders CARE a lot, we know a lot, we want to say, “do this, do that;”  in my case, that especially includes telling him to do the things — like being organized, not procrastinating, etc. — that I am still working on 40 years ahead of him down the road.  But I realize he has to walk that path.  And he will only walk it if I get out of his way (including letting him fall off the path or walk into traps like the ones I have).

This work of letting go and inviting THEM to  lead is not only hard because we care and we know and we’re the adults or the high-priced accountable leaders. But also because they are ambivalent. They say “get off my back Mom,” or they complain about us bosses at the water cooler, to their siblings, to friends.  But this complaining is frankly a lot easier than taking charge, taking on the hard work, e.g., of learning how to best organize themselves, or to control their procrastination. In the world of work they say they want more authority, but they’re ambivalent at best; part of them would rather complain than actually come up with recommendations and not just problems, or would rather push the risks up the ladder than take them on, or would rather ask the union to resolve a problem than do it themselves.  They, or we would rather blame the cops than do the hard work of organizing our neighbors or become mentors to get at crime and poverty at its roots. It’s hard to give the work back because followers really aren’t sure they want the work.

To come full circle:  as leaders, we can complain about them; “oh they say they want responsibility but then when you give it to them, what do they do?  Nothing.”  Yup, now who’s complaining :-).  I suggest instead:  KNOW that taking full adult responsibility is hard for all of us.  And a big part of the work when you’ve got “the position,” is to — as my friend and mentor Ronnie Heifetz would say — “give the work back to the people.”

Watch the traps this week!  See, how you can challenge, inspire, listen, empower, and make it clear that you expect them to

Lead with their best self!

Dan