Lessons in Childlike Leadership

Some of our greatest leadership lessons (both good and bad) can be learned from kids. They are innocent and without self-obsession, expressing true human nature. A good friend of mine shared this cute story with me, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you. Thanks Laurie!

There’s a family in our cul-de-sac that has three kids ages 7, 5, and 3. The mom is intimately involved in their lives and keeps the kids very active. Michael, the oldest child, is a typical first born; he’s confident, a little on the bossy side, and is already showing signs of leadership at his young age. Over the weekend I watched the mom and her three kids riding their bikes down the hill from their house past ours. Michael was way out in front, enjoying the moment of being in the lead and being very vocal about his position.

Just a short while later the family was riding back, this time uphill. Michael stopped his bike to take a break, and his sisters and mom passed him on their way to the top of the hill. Michael yelled out, “I’m the leader! I’m the leader! You need to wait for me. You all know that I’m the leader!”

His mother said “Michael, you can’t be the leader if no one is following you, and you’re behind everyone else, so you need to catch up. Come on!” Michael, now upset and frustrated, mumbled under his breath, “I’m the leader. You know I’m the leader…”

It’s hard to read this story without chuckling, isn’t it? While funny, this illustration has many similarities to real adult leadership. Let’s hash through some of them.

Four Lessons in Childlike Leadership

The privileged leader. As the first-born, Michael carries the title as the oldest, and in his mind that means others are to follow even if he isn’t up to the task. Our lesson here is to understand that leaders don’t have to be in front or first. A leader’s job is to facilitate the win, not be the winner. Reaching the finish line first is not the sign of a leader.

Leading through difficult times. Michael was having a great time leading his family down the hill. His leadership challenge didn’t start until it was time to peddle up the hill. I’ve been blessed to lead teams and organizations through easy downhill and difficult uphill times. Leading during these two different conditions takes different leadership skills, which is why we must lead to the conditions.

Allowing others to lead. Hats off to Mom! I love the part mom plays in this story. It’s obvious she is the real leader. We know this because she stayed in the back when she could and came to the front when she was needed. Mom allowed a young leader to lead when the conditions didn’t require her leadership. Going down hill was the perfect time to let her son experience the taste of leadership. No harm done, except for an ego issue she will address later!

Show or tell leaders. I loved the illustration Michael gave us by announcing with frustration that he was the leader. Have you ever had to tell others that you were the leader? Or have you ever been on the receiving side of that proclamation? Better to show than to tell your leadership. Few will follow the “tell” style.

Who knows whether of not Michael will grow up to be a great leader? He’s proved he has the desire. All he needs is a leader who is willing to teach him the true realities of leading a team or organization. For now mom is doing an outstanding job!

What other lessons do you see in Michael’s story?


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  • Maurissa says:

    Immediately what came to mons is a leader never crosses the finish line alone from one of your previous posts. Great article!! Thanks for being this resource to so many!