Leadership: Using Empathy ‘I Hear You Saying You Are Frustrated’

So anyone who lives in the US (or really, in the world) knows that there has been a recent election in the US.

It was, or is, a very tight race, with lots of people voting for the candidates whom they feel best represent their interests, their level of comfort, and numerous other reasons that compel people to vote.

Record numbers of people have voted, which affects local races, the Senate, Congress, and the election for the next leader of our country.

As a leader, both in parenting my children and as a leader in my work environments, I tend to have a lot of opinions about characteristics of leaders and what I find useful in bringing out the work/change in others that we are working together to accomplish.

A story of when I was first hired to be a supervisor of staff in a previous role:

I was 28, and my two children who were born on the same day were just about nearly 1 years old. I had been providing mental health therapy to families who were involved with Child Protective Services, and had learned about a program called Healthy Families. A difference between Healthy Families and the work I had been doing was the timing of the intervention to assist kids who were at risk for being abused or neglected by their caregivers. The program is intended for families who have a certain level of assessed need.

Healthy Families targets families who are going to care for an infant, and has to begin within the first 3 months of the child’s life. The research has been pretty clear that children who receive prevention/protective services fare better in terms of lowering their likelihood of being abused of neglected compared to those families who do not receive that support. The criteria to qualify for services at the time period in which I was working was a pretty low amount of documented risk, and families chose to be a part of the program.

I was hired to supervise this program that was new to two of the counties in which I had been working. I was promoted from my position as home based therapist/caseworker, to Healthy Families Supervisor.

A few benefits to me were the following: I had a predictable time to finish work each day, which was generally before the day care my children attended closed; I was able to be a part of something which I truly believed in and wanted to support; and I could utilize my skills/training in mental health to supervise entry level staff. I went from being a peer to several other employees, to having no peers. I got to jump in and lead two staff who were new to the company and learn with them how to implement the program. I was also able to retain just a few clients I had been meeting with for counseling and of course, continue to parent and lead my children to be functioning adults.

I noticed that utilizing empathy when a staff is feeling frustrated helped them to perform better.

If I had a staff who was stressed about trying to schedule the number of families that they were seeing, particularly taking into account the distance the families lived from each other, I could identify the emotion that the staff was feeling by naming it and then having a discussion about their interpretation of what could help.

Example: I hear that you are feeling frustrated about getting all of your families scheduled. It sounds like you are concerned about driving distances between each client, while you are also wanting to make sure to get them all scheduled. That must be stressful.

The above is an example of empathy. I’m verbalizing that I hear that they are frustrated, which they may have specifically stated, and I am summarizing what I am hearing that they are frustrated about. I am then stating the stress that I am interpreting that is causing them.

One difference that we have is that we tend to use different words to express our feelings. I might say frustrated, and the staff member may correct me and state they are not frustrated, they are irritated. Or angry, or sad about it.

Me naming the correct emotional label was less important than me indicating that I heard what they were saying, with an opportunity for them to correct me if needed.

Leading with empathy can be very effective in getting desired results both at work and in the home enviornment with parenting children.

With kids, I will give a different example, which involves my then 4 year old son.

He was hungry, or wanted to play something different, or had some sort of need.

I don’t remember specifically what we were having a disagreement about, but I do remember getting quite frustrated and raising my voice to a higher volume. I was repeating myself, and he was repeating himself, and we were not communicating well

He stopped and yelled my name:

Mom!! I get frustrated when you use that voice to yell at me!’

As you may be able to tell, he had spent four years of his life (so far) with a therapist for a mother. He wasn’t getting his needs met, which for arguments sake was a snack before dinner.

I wasn’t getting my need met, which was for him to accept that I had told him ‘no’ and to move on to something else

We both started using loud voices, which can be hard on our ears and unpleasant to hear.

When he yelled my name, I stopped and listened. He was able to express his feelings, and to name his own emotion. This story includes an ‘I-statement’ and it indicates that he was listening and hearing my loud voice.

As we all work toward having peaceful moments, I encourage you to think about how you can show empathy for others.

How can you, as someone who is hearing someone say something, indicate that you are hearing what they are saying and understand what they are saying about how they feel?

In graduate school, at the University of Cincinnati, we had a whole course on practicing reflective listening and using empathy. We practiced with each other, and it felt awkward at first.

As you are working to get your needs met and yourself heard, how do you respond when someone shows empathy to you? Do you feel more heard and listened to when the person you are speaking with names the feeling you have or reflects back what you have said?

I challenge you to work to increase the amount of empathy that you show. I encourage you to speak in ways that show the person you are talking with that you hear not just the words they are saying, but also the emotions behind it.

I’m a ‘Boss’,but I’m not ‘Bossy’: Leading with Authenticity and Servant Leadership

In my most recent article on leadership, I wrote about leadership in children. In this article, I’m focusing on leadership as it goes along with leadership style.

In 2015, I attended a training on Protective Factors. At one point during the 3-day training, the leader had us write a sentence about ourselves, where we said ‘I’m a (blank), but I’m not (blank)’. We then got into pairs to discuss what we had written.

I wrote ‘I’m a Boss, but I’m not Bossy’.

See, I have a bossy older sister. As the middle child, I have perceived myself as not being bossy due to the way that I direct and lead. I was bossed…..a LOT (she’s two years older than me, which makes me perfect boss age to her), so I tend to direct differently.

I told my friend, who is a leader in her role, about my statement about 6 months later; that I was a boss but not bossy.

She disagreed, pretty vehemently.

She perceives me as quite bossy, and has worked alongside me in multiple roles through our work. We have gotten to be close friends since we met six years ago.

She has observed me managing and organizing safety fairs, and recognizes the terse look I get on my face when things are not quite right. She has observed me when a disgruntled staff member attempted to usurp my leadership, and is in tune with my knee jerk irritation. I generally try to keep that irritation under wraps unless I find it useful to me.

Side note, after completing ’23 and Me’ to determine where my olive skin came from (I’m fairly recessive in my family with my dark skin where 3 out of 5 are blond and lighter skinned, I discovered that I am 93% Northern European, mostly Irish. Recognizing the Irish temper in me has probably helped me in some ways, and allowed me to show it a little more freely in others.

When I attended the Protective Factors training, I was working for a large not-for-profit agency. The management style there was different than any I had previously experienced.

Prior to working there, I had worked for two very small companies where I reported to the leader.

At the first location, we were a for-profit company where the founder held the title President, and the rest of us were either Supervisor (we had three master’s level supervisors at our largest, when there were 20 employees) or direct workers, who primarily held the roles of case manager. We usually had a master’s level therapist or two.

We had multiple programs, and I had multiple roles, during my almost 14 years with the company. Figuring out what programs to apply for next, integrating new grants into our current work, and getting the best out of the employees we had or would hire were a significant parts of my role during our supervision (management) meetings.

After leaving that company, I worked for a nearly 40 year old non-profit which had multiple funding sources. These included two Federal grants, contracts with the State of Indiana, local grants, as well as local donations and funding.

This agency had a long history in the community where I resided. It was board led, and the leadership team was the Executive Director, the Director of Programs (me), and the Director of Development. I worked for those two companies, both of which fell victim to the housing recession, for a combined total of 17 years.

The three of us at the non-profit brain-stormed in monthly management meetings about how to make our current programs better, what grants to apply for, how to get the best out of employees, participating in the community, and how to respond if we were to not be awarded one of the grants that we had.

In 2013, after just over two years of working there and being a great fit for that role and that leadership team, the company was not awarded a Federal grant which allowed us to provide a Pregnant and Parenting Teen program.

Following the loss of that grant and our flagship program, we merged with a much larger nonprofit which was housed in Marion County.

That agency has programs all over the central area of the state, but did not really have much involvement in Hamilton County, where Promising Futures, the non-profit, had been located. That agency is almost entirely funded by contracts with the State of Indiana, with a small portion being funded by corporate and local donations and United Way.

Hamilton County is a wealthy county, and in fact is one of the wealthiest in the nation, due to the average income level of people who live there. It is one of the most populous counties in Indiana, and is an anomaly for the state.

The perception in many surrounding communities is that people who live in Hamilton County don’t have problems, and that there are no people who have a lack of income in the county. This clearly was and is not the case. There are fewer known resources in Hamilton County, particularly considering the population, and they can be difficult to find.

Our merger with the large agency was complete as 2014 started. Staff had been informed and interviewed for positions with the new larger agency in August of 2013. The small non-profit had been informed that we officially had not been re-awarded the 5 year grant in the previous May. The grant would have renewed at the end of February, but due to sequestration had not been awarded to those who received it until early May. We had closed our group home and apartments at the end of March due to the lack of continued funding, with a plan to re-open if we were awarded funds once the decisions for funding had been announced.

In 2015, I would be the only remaining staff from Promising Futures to stay at the large agency, and I remained until 2018. Managing within a large agency was a much different experience than managing within a smaller one.

When I began working for the larger agency, my role changed. I worked alongside another Director within the same office who was over Prevention Programs, and another Director who was housed in Madison County (a local county with very different demographics than Hamilton County) who supervised Intervention Programs.

Instead of having a direct boss at my location, I had a Vice President to whom I reported, who then reported to the CEO.

Within a few months, I applied for and was hired to be the Director of Prevention Programs, which was housed in my same location. I applied partially due to my love for prevention, but also due to a fear of losing another Federal grant and thus my job security.

My responsibilities increased by about 70% at that time, which was fairly overwhelming. About four months later, the second Federal Grant that Promising Futures had held was not re-awarded to the larger agency.

For the first several months of Directing the Promising Futures and Prevention Programs, I reported to two different Vice Presidents, depending on the program.

These two individuals had very different management styles, and had different histories with the company.

After approximately 2 months, the Vice President who had a long history with the company, but not with the CEO, moved on to other opportunities. I was then managed by one VP for all programs that I supervised.

The large agency is over 100 years old, and the systems in place regarding bureaucracy were very clear to those familiar with them. Their bureaucratic system closely resembled how the programs under the State of Indiana (Department of Child Services) were organized and led.

I learned as I went, which is typical for my kinesthetic learning style, about how to work with separate people and departments for things like Accounting/Finance, Human Resources, Residential, Development, and other Community Based and Foster Care programs. The departments were led by other Vice Presidents, who all reported to the CEO, who had come on board at the beginning of 2013.

I learned, through the nearly five years that I was with the company, that a strict bureaucratic leadership style is not something that I had been familiar with prior to working there.

The small town of Tipton, Indiana where I grew up, is non-hierarchical, which fits with my leadership style and personality. I was shaped by my childhood experiences, spending years k-12 going to Tipton schools and I identify with the community as where I was raised.

I moved there from Hamilton County just before starting Kindergarten. Many people have lived in Tipton county for generations.

Tipton is historically a farm community. There were about 5-6 families that held/hold most of the farmland, which means that those families have a lot of feelings about land development.

Most 13-16 year olds who were living in Tipton in the early to mid 80’s worked in the corn fields over the summer and had spending money for the rest of the year if we budgeted for that.

As far as the income levels of my peers, there were factories in Kokomo, where many people in the community held employment. Many of my friends had teachers as parents, and Tipton County also housed Pioneer, which has historically been one of the leading corn/soy bean producing companies in the nation. Tipton has some of the best soil in the US, so de-tasseling corn correctly was very important, and we developed a teamwork ethic that I believe is part of the culture of the town.

With a high school of 650 total students in it, 150 in my class, and a city limit size of 5,000, you can imagine that fielding teams and school plays requires a lot of crossover skills. You want your teammate to help you have success, so we learned to build each other up and play to our potential from a young age. What we learned, growing up, was what is now known as Servant Leadership.

I spoke with a childhood friend of mine who is now a leader in her field and who also lives in Texas, about leadership styles and what she values.

She discussed Servant Leadership, a term I am familiar with but wanted to hear her take on. She discussed the importance of encouraging and motivating your employees to work for shared goals. She discussed wanting to get the best out of others, to achieve success. She talked about how it is about trust, and the important of leading from a ‘we’ perspective and not ‘I’.

She’s had a lot of success in her role, and has worked for over 20 years with her company. She discussed encouraging staff to feel like ideas are their own, and some tactics she has utilized in leading peers and those who do not directly report to her.

One of the things I learned from my experience at the large non-profit about my supervision style, is that others have some very different values in terms of how to lead and about communicating and delegating tasks. Working someplace with a very different history required me to learn new paths.

Supervision and Management

There are many different types and amounts of supervision and management styles that people need, and a one size fits all approach can make getting shared goals difficult to accomplish.

There are those who love to be told precisely what is expected of them, who are very de-motivated by and distracted by those who are less likely to want that type of direction.

There are people who experience the highest level of success with a framework of what is expected. Give them the framework of what is expected to be accomplished, including parameters, and they will thrive in their role as they determine what path is best.

People less inclined to follow specific rules may develop ‘work-arounds’. A difference in how people adhere to rules can be stressful to those who follow rules very specifically, as well as for those who are less inclined to do so.

I tend to call people who have thetendency to follow rules very specifically ‘rule-followers’. I tend to be more of a ‘parameter follower’. Tell me the parameters, and I will have success in my role.

We each have different tendencies and methods to our own successes, and managing and leading requires knowledge of what helps each of us be productive and learn so that we can achieve those shared goals.

When I think about leading, I think about those who are being led.

There are those who cooperate and encourage the achievement of shared goals, and those whose goals are not the same as their leader’s, or the agency’s, who sabotage and work against shared goals.

A leader in a non-leadership position can be a great asset, and someone who sabotages shared goals can be equally effective at causing chaos.

When a leader has the role of managing others and providing supervision, the level of importance of rules and requirements is affected. People require funds to pay their bills and make purchases, so the amount of emotions around following rules is different from situations where an exchange of funds is not part of the situation.

A personal rule I have as it pertains to leading in employment situations is that I do not threaten staff that if they do not cooperate, that they will not get paid. There are people in leadership positions with whom I have worked that used that tactic, and in my opinion the anxiety and fear that specific threat causes decreases staff’s effectiveness at tasks.

There are also labor laws which prevent employers from withholding pay except under very specific circumstances.

Leadership, when it includes management, involves helping things run smoothly, again to achieve shared goals.

An effective leader may manage directly, with a lot of initial instruction and explanation to prepare staff for their roles when someone starts a position. Some leaders manage by preparing and talking with staff about what is coming and what to expect, with the expectation that rules will be followed and to decrease interventions.

I tend to lead ‘from the back’. What this means is that I encourage those I am leading to accomplish our shared goals by setting parameters, explaining expectations, then letting them learn to work as I intervene when necessary. I establish a relationship of trust, and talk quite a bit in the beginning of the supervisory relationship about how I encourage their questions, and will monitor, explain, and correct to help them learn their role.

I work to assess strengths and weaknesses, to see which areas need more leadership and monitoring, and which areas are more of a strength for each employee.

I do a lot of training by peers, who do the role every day and can answer questions about repeated tasks easily.

I help those I lead understand what is expected, how to turn to each other for appropriate help, how to learn from staff who have had success in their roles, and I set up an expectation of success. I then monitor and am available for interventions through supervision, availability for questions, and other quality control depending on my role at the time.

In Conclusion

As you think about ways you want to lead, and things that are important to you in leadership, what do you think about?

As you think about those irritations from those who have led you in the past, whether it was someone you chose as your leader or someone whose leadership style is very different from yours, what can you learn from that.

A very good friend of mine once said to me ‘we can learn as much from being led poorly as we can from being led well’.

What can you learn, as you lead your children by parenting, lead others in your position of work or friendships, or as you are led? How can you encourage, from your position, success for shared goals?

Let’s Play ‘Family!’ I’ll be the Aunt: Leading Through Play and a Look at Generational Differences

Have you ever watched a group of children play together, as they organize themselves while they determine what to play and who plays what role? I’m pretty fascinated by group dynamics, and love to watch groups of people; adult, children, and in between; interact and make decisions.

We played a lot of kickball when I attended Jefferson Elementary School. For those familiar with Tipton, Indiana; Jefferson Elementary was initially named First Ward, and is was later torn down and re-built as the site of the C.W. Mount Center which houses the Boys and Girls Club.

It had a great playground behind the school, which included pavement for dodgeball, basketball, and 4square, and a grassy field for kickball with swings at the far end. There was a second grassy area on the other side of the pavement, where there were bars for gymnastic work or pull-ups, and a tether ball.

On days that we played kickball, we divided ourselves into two teams. The captains picked their teammates and we played during our recesses (of which we had two per day; one in the morning, and one directly after lunch).

I can remember learning to kick the ball away from 1st base toward 3rd base but not too close, as I was fairly small (as in slim and weak-ish) and not that great at kicking or fast at running. I would then book it as fast as I could around the bases trying not to get ‘out’.

We had ‘soak outs’, which occurs when the person fielding the ball throws it at you to get you out. We had to be continuously aware of a potential ball hitting us as we ran the bases. There was lots of trash talk, teams of kids yelling for their teammates to move up or back depending on the strength and speed of the kicker, and lots of fun was had overall, generally.

What I liked even better than kickball during recess was 4-Square. 4-Square (no, not the app), is played in a square which is divided into four equal squares (hence the name). The squares are labeled 1-4 and were located on the paved part of the playground. To play, the person in the number 1 square bounced the ball into one of the other squares, and the other player hit it back and bounced it into someone else’s square. This went on until the ball went out of the square or double bounced before someone was able to hit it back.

The skills needed to succeed at 4-Square included much less running and more hand-eye coordination and rhythm, which were more my speed. As long as you bounced the ball without error into someone else’s box, you stayed in the game and could eventually lead from the number 1 spot. This game probably helped prepare me for Volleyball and Tennis, which I played as a teenager.

These were child led activities, back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Our playground had one recess attendant, who probably, if I were to guess, kept their eyes mostly on kids who tended to really struggle with following rules and left the rest of us alone. They watched for rule infringements and tried to keep warm on cold, winter, Indiana days. If you got into trouble at recess you had to stand against the wall, therefore incorporating shame in keeping the child away from interacting with others.

We played after school as well, particularly those of us who lived in town and didn’t have to rely on parents to drive us to a shared activity. Most of us had to go home when the church bells rang at 5pm. There were a couple of local churches with great yards, so we tended to congregate there if we played organized activities. I’m from a small town, and my elementary school was right in the heart of the town. A busy street (Jefferson St or Highway 28) was the boundary for our school, so we could get around on bikes or on foot without crossing busy streets fairly easily.

I love to play, even now, so recess and playing with friends was one of my favorite parts of the day.

I talked with one of my childhood friends recently, and we reminisced about different things we did during recess and hanging out as friends. We discussed how children of that time period had a lot of unstructured time. We led each other, and bullying was a term reserved for kids who were fairly abusive in their negotiating tactics. My guess is that the children who tended to bully were not treated as well at home as I would hope a child would be, and mimicked some interactions they had with some of their own family members.

My friend Cara and I spent a lot of time together, particularly during 4th and 5th grades, and remember how, as groups of kids, we negotiated for leadership in deciding what activity we did during recess. Some days we wanted to play as an organized group, and other days we played in smaller groups. As we talked, we shared some memories of playing together at recess, at each other’s houses, and after school.

The picture at the beginning of this article is of a group of us making a totem pole, which we frequently did at sleepovers. I am the one at the bottom, as I was relatively tall for my age compared to some others, and she is at the top. In between are our friends including her twin sister Sara, Wendy and Stacy. We are on Cara’s back porch, and their little brother is perfect porch height and grinning at being included. Cara and I look a little tired and cranky, so my guess is we were less enthusiastic about the totem pole picture than the other three, and especially Kurt.

Negotiating for who determined what we were playing, or who was the captain of kickball that day, or whether we played jumprope, tether ball, on the bars doing gymnastics, or whether we swung on the swings; depended on the day. All of us had friends that we were better or worse friends with, so allegiances changed as some of those friendships changed and evolved over weeks and months (or days…or hours).

Sometimes we played with boys and girls together, and sometimes we played more separately. All of us learned leadership skills, as we learned to coax our friends into playing what each of us wanted to each day, so we got better at bartering and bargaining for power and position. We recruited people to “be on our side”, which included things like “lets go for a bike ride first, then we can play SPUD” or “I want to play Chinese jump rope, so if you’ll play with me, we’ll do what you want later”.

To lead effectively, someone has to get people to follow. We have to motivate others and encourage them to do what we like, and be willing to speak up and not always get our own way. We learned to align with each other to get numbers, and we all had personal preferences of what games we liked the best as well as personal history of how we felt about leading and being led.

We weren’t led by adults, as the adults were there to monitor us for safety.

She remembers that sometimes the adult at the playground chose who was the captain for kickball. She’s naturally much more athletic than I was or am, and my guess is that she was chosen earlier in the school yard picking process and may even have been captain at some points.

I remember that it was a boy who was generally captain, or at least not me, and that boys were typically chosen first. Sometimes we (our group of friends who were girls) wanted to play, and sometimes we wouldn’t play because we got irritated at not being chosen as early. The boys who loved kickball the most recognized they needed to field the team, so they spent some time recruiting us on days when their numbers were low and they’d have to chase the ball as it went through holes in the field.

This was when Title IX was first starting, so we had ‘After School Sports’ for girls a couple of days a week, and of course had some really athletic girls.

I loved playing sports as a child and still love to be active. Gender roles were viewed a little differently during the late 70’s/80’s era than they are today. Kickball takes a lot of people, so sometimes we, as in my closer group of friends, negotiated whether or not we were willing to play that vs. something else that day. In terms of playground activities, girls tended to play all of the activities as I remember, and the boys tended to play kickball, dodgeball, swings, or basketball. I would say, at the time I went to elementary school, it was a little easier to be a girl who liked sports than a boy who did not.

I-Generation

I talked with one of my 22 year old sons today about how they choose teams for pick-up basketball. He also loves to play and be active, and frequently has a hand in organizing groups of people to interact physically.

He loves a pick-up basketball game, and we discussed how interactions frequently work with his friends.

With texting, checking in with a group of friends can be quite simple and easy. At one point, when he was in high school and early college, he had a group text specifically for getting together and playing basketball at a local court that had lights. I’m sure they discussed all kinds of things, but suddenly he would announce he was leaving, or planning to leave, based on a text he received due to wanting to play. They had to wait until enough people committed, so he’d be talking about it for a long time sometimes, and other times he didn’t mention going until the last minute.

I asked him today how they pick their teams, and he told me that they shoot the ball for being captain. Whoever makes the first two shots are the two captains. They always pick the Team Captains by merit, which is a definite change from the pattern of who picked teams for our kickball teams. My guess is each generation, mine being Generation X and him being a part of Generation Z or the iGeneration, has some norms when it comes to play, leadership, and organizing.

The Greatest Generation/Baby Boomers

My parents are right on the cusp at the end of The Greatest Generation and the beginning of Baby Boomers. I talked with them about their memories of playing with kids, particularly as it relates to leadership.

My dad’s recollection involves groups of kids playing sporting activities. He didn’t mention gender, but my guess is that, even though he had 4 sisters, these groups include mainly boys. He recalls that they got together and determined which groups would be fair for whatever activity they were doing. He is a leader, and remembers working to get the teams set up so that they would be fairly equal and be a competitive, or ‘good’ game. He recalls that he was motivated to play with friends he liked socially or possibly who he thought he would be more likely to win with.

My dad was pretty vertically challenged as a child, and he is also driven to win and succeed. He would have aligned himself with some players who were less vertically challenged would be my guess, while he was scrappy and tough, particularly with his verbal skills.

My mom remembers playing collaboratively. She did not have a memory of who was in charge, other than that her sister always wanted to be the ‘mom’ if they were to play house. She played hopscotch with her cousins, and remembers utilizing the sidewalk rectangles to create edges, and drawing lines to create triangles. My mom is not one to embrace conflict, and enjoys when others get along. She remembers the process of playing, not the conflict.

I find it interesting how kids figure out how to lead and to be led, even at young ages, and how these skills evolve over time.

Generation Alpha

I have an 8 year old niece, and my friend has a n10 year old niece. We discussed how their play works, from our perception, and who picks their activities.

The niece I’m referring to has been identified as having leadership skills (some might call her bossy) from a very young age. She is strong willed and knows her wants and needs. I was able to speak with her about the game of ‘Family’. We used to call it playing ‘House’.

She explained to me that her friends want her to be the mom, and sometimes it gets very confusing because there are lots of people who want to play, so they can create different families with friends, other families, cousins, etc.

I can remember that I never wanted to be the mom playing House, because I did not love to play that game and the mom has lots of responsibilities. I think I liked to be ‘sister’, or ‘Aunt’, but frequently had to play ‘Dad’, probably in part because I was relatively tall and someone had to play that role.

The dads, in our version of house, had fewer responsibilities. I enjoy a side conversation and do not always enjoy pretending. I can remember some strong feelings about who got to play each role and bartering and bargaining to play each one as we determined who played each role.

My niece sighed as she stated that people always want her to be ‘mom’, and she did not have an answer for me when I asked her what they do when someone else wants to be mom as well. Her dad had previously told me that my niece is always the mom. It might be interesting to observe her with a group of like-minded leaders to see how that plays out.

I identify with my niece in many of her strong-willed ways, and she frequently likes to direct me as we play on FaceTime or in person. If we were the same age, I can imagine both of us locking into position about which activity we each wanted to do. I can imagine that we would cajole each other into playing our own versions, or type of games, or even what we were playing, so that we could both enjoy ourselves and influence the other.

My friend’s daughter tends to play collaboratively. She has some friends who try to pressure other kids into doing what they like, which is upsetting to her. When that occurs she may choose to play with someone else, or get upset about what she interprets as unfair due to her desires to play and get along. She works to find common ground with her friends so that they can all get their way. She is nearly 10, so puberty may change some of the ways that she and her friends play together in the coming years.

Leadership Roles

Children organize themselves into groups, and leaders emerge. Someone has the role of enforcing the rules, someone has a role of gathering people up to get a game organized, somebody or several somebodies want to be in charge, and some people want to be told what to do.

I have noticed, particularly during my 20 years of supervising staff (1998-2018), that people in general want to be led, and they want to be led well.

People tend to like clear rules and boundaries, and knowing clearly what the expectations are. Even people who do not like rules or consequences want to know what the rules are, so that they can determine if the rules are worth following or not.

There are people who have a natural inclination to lead, people who are experts at what they do, and those who can learn to lead. In my opinion, some lead more naturally and successfully than others, and enhancing skills through motivation and training can help most of get better at anything we do.

In kids, we can watch them work things out through problem solving, ignoring things they may not like, side conversations and remarks that can turn into overthrowing the group, and adult intervention which sometimes is needed and sometimes complicates things further.

We can also watch children yell and scream and throw temper tantrums, and try to get their own way. Children are less refined than adults, due to fewer life experiences, but interact in ways to get their own needs met, as we all do.

We’re all just trying to get our needs met

So….I have mentioned in previous posts that I started supervising others when I was 28 years old. I began supervising staff just about 1 year after I gave birth to twins, so I was managing some staff, co-parenting two babies, and still figuring out life as a professional and emerging adult.

Leading doesn’t come from age. Just because someone has life experience or feels it is their turn to lead does not in and of itself give credibility to their leadership ability.

Along the same lines, just because someone is young and has fewer life experiences doesn’t mean that their leadership qualities lack or that their ideas don’t have merit.

Leadership doesn’t come just by having a position.

Effective leadership is encouraging others, motivating them, and accomplishing shared goals. A poor leader, who was put in a position of leadership that may not be a fit for them, may mistakenly think that intimidation, strict adherence to rules, and threats make people cooperate. While their result may be cooperation and an amount of success, this form of leadership may work for some and de-motivate others.

In Closing

As we think about qualities that we appreciate in leaders, I think it is important to think about how we teach our children as they are showing emerging signs of leading. Leadership can look like a child who doesn’t accept things as they are presented. They may be the child who says, ‘but what if we try it this way’, which can be frustrating, but also can result in some new ways of getting things done. It can be modeling appropriate behavior. It can be convincing their neighbor to come along and play.

As you think about qualities that you like about yourself, and the qualities that you appreciate in those you lead and those you are led by, what are some important qualities that you value? Do you value being told exactly what to do, and the security that comes with that? Do you value a general guideline with room for interpretation? Or somewhere in between?

Thinking about how kids, of many different ages, have had a pandemic disrupt their activities, their schoolwork, and their daily interactions, some patterns of encouragement and attention for abilities and lack of abilities have certainly changed in the last couple of months.

A child who excels at sports may depend on that positive attention they get when they play and people watch them. This spring, that has been lacking.

A child who loves to sit and read may have had a great opportunity to do that during the last couple of months, and may have breathed a sigh of relief that activities were fewer.

A child who really struggles to sit still and stay on task may have a teacher who is very skilled at getting that child to cooperate, and a parent who is stressed and less tolerant of fidgeting. Or the opposite.

This has been an opportunity for all of us, at all ages, to sit back, re-evaluate, and establish new patterns whether we like them or not.

I encourage you, as you watch children around you lead and be led, and as you think about leaders you want to associate with and how you lead, to think about ways that are most productive.

Mornings are Fun! Starting the Day in a Happy, Productive Way

link.medium.com/Xo8IiSXOE6

Here’s an article I wrote for Medium a while ago. While I have switched to herbal tea, the rest is pretty true, even today. I’m in in a different state with different work responsibilities, but still enjoy some hot tea and predictability.

Happy reading!

Homelessness in Madison County: 2017

terriswritings.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/flvwlmixqcucsgdspkeqqw.mov

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