In my last post we looked at four ways to lead others – push, drag, carry or inspire. In the days since it’s occurred to me that these are also four ways parents can lead their children. But before moving to those ways let’s be clear on one idea about parenting. I’m convinced after 24 years of being a parent that the key responsibility we have as parents, maybe the only responsibility, is to lead our children. This may seem obvious but the truth is many parents don’t lead, either because they don’t know how to or simply don’t believe it’s their place. But the truth is the very first social organizations in history were not businesses, non-profits, or governments but instead it were families. And since healthy organizations require leadership, we shouldn’t be surprised that healthy families need leadership and that every child needs to be lead.
So what are the ways a parent can lead their child?
Parents have the same options available as a leader of any organization – they can push, drag, carry or they can inspire their children. Maybe the only difference is that as parents, especially parents of young children and adolescents, it’s appropriate to use all four ways more often than you do when leading/parenting adults. As a result, the key to successful parenting is having the wisdom to know when to lead which way.
Unfortunately this is usually where we make mistakes as parents. We push when we should carry, we carry when we should inspire, we drag when a gentle nudge is all that is needed.
And just like leading teams, parents (myself included) can fall into one way of leading because it worked so well at one particular moment or season in our child’s life. The tricky part is to be able to recognize the need to move away from a specific way when the child’s ready to be led differently. We’ve seen this in the parenting of our own children, who are now adults. When they were children, we often dragged them to piano practice, pushed them to eat right, carried them when life was beyond their capacity to handle. But as adults our children don’t want nor appreciate being pushed, dragged, and most often not even carried. They do love and want to be inspired. A new season in our children’s life requires a shift in the way we parent.
How do we know we’re parenting the best way? Our children should be accomplishing both our short-term goals (eating their vegetables) and our long-term goals (becoming people who don’t need to be pushed, pulled or carried).
So this leaves us with the question we all face as parents – are we ready to give up our go-to parenting ways for the better way in this moment or season of your child’s life?
Leaders tend to use one of four ways to move people in a desired direction. Each approach works in the short-term, especially when movement is urgently needed. Which way a leader chooses often depends on the people and circumstances involved. But one way is ultimately the best, one that moves people farther and faster than the others. But before we talk about that way, let’s take a look at the other three.
The first way is Pushing Leadership. The reality is sometimes people need a simple push to move forward (think of a mother bird pushing her young out of the nest to learn to fly). In many situations this is the best approach – a gentle push and big things happen. But too often leaders are simply pushy people. Pushy leaders will wear out their team, especially if their team already knows how to fly. When this happens those being pushed simply comply, hide or leave.
The second way many leaders lead is by dragging their followers along. Dragging Leadership is when the leader runs so far ahead that the rest of the team is always killing themselves to stay up. It looks much like a dog race with the leader as the rabbit and the team are the dogs running hard to catch it. It’s an excellent leadership style for dog races but it burns people out quickly. Yes, leaders should set the pace and lead by example but they need to be careful not to confuse running with leading.
The third way is what I call Carrying Leadership. Carrying leadership occurs when a leader steps in and rescues their team by taking on their jobs and responsibilities. As with the first two ways, there are times when leaders need to step in and help their people through a difficult patch. But it turns destructive when leaders create leadership co-dependency by always assuring their team avoids difficulty or pain and thus never learns to deal with problems, issues and rough patches.
Finally, the most effective (and the most difficult) leadership is Inspiring Leadership. Inspiring Leadership requires relationship, clarity, communication, a meaningful cause, an opportunity to succeed, an end to the game, and understanding of role. Inspiring leadership is helping others make their best contribution and, when they do, receive all the credit. In Inspiring Leadership is where the team is center stage and the leader is back stage or in the sound booth assuring the team’s success.
So which way do you lead? Are you a pushing, dragging or carrying leader? If so, take this as a gentle push to become an Inspiring Leader, one who leads others to become all that God’s created them to be so they can do all that God’s planned for them to do. This is the kind of leadership we all crave and the type of leadership that can change our world.
The safest route in life is to have low expectations for yourself and others, to set only achievable goals (or maybe no goals at all), and to take the proven path. The safe route assures that you are, well, safe, but almost never brings you (0r anyone following you) to a place that’s meaningful or makes a true difference.
Yet as leaders, should this type of safety (ours and others) be our over arching goal? Is it possible to lead, to make a real difference in the world and in the lives of others, and, at the same time, take the safe path? The answer is a resounding no. Leaders, by definition, take action to change and improve today for a better tomorrow, all the while inspiring others to do the same. To this end, leaders are willing to carry the pain, do the hard work and, ultimately, risk complete and utter failure to see a better future become a reality.
Reaching higher is always a risky proposition, but with risk comes great returns. Safety instead of risk means a life with no lasting rewards, only temporary comfort. Our son Mitch, a student at the United States Naval Academy, was, as a Plebe, required to memorize the following quote from Teddy Roosevelt –
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
And there’s a reason all Midshipmen are required to memorize this statement. To attend the USNA, to dare to put one’s self in an incredibly competitive and pressure filled environment, to be subject to discipline, hardship, and a career requiring one to take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States with one’s life, is a huge risk. But the potential reward is incredible, for themselves and, more importantly, for others and for the world.
So here’s the bottom line – we’re given only one life on this earth to live, one life to eternally impact others, one life to explore this planet, and one life at changing the world. We can choose to avoid the potential risks of reaching higher but we can never live free of all risks. Because when we take the safe route we take the significantly bigger risk of living in that gray twilight where there is no loss nor any lasting reward.
I’m not big on job titles. To me they’re an organizational necessary evil. But sometimes getting a job title or classification right is important because they often communicate very powerful messages.
Since SpringHill’s first summer in 1969, the people we hired to work with kids and assist in running summer camp were simply called summer staff. It’s a practical title since these people joined our staff team and worked for the summer. But the issue is, like so many titles in the world, it doesn’t do justice to the actual work these people do. It doesn’t come close to communicating the critical roles, responsibilities and impact these people have on the lives of literally 10,000’s of young people every summer.
These important team members provide the moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day leadership required to provide campers with safe, exciting, memorable and life transforming experiences. Every person on our summer team leads. They may lead a group of campers or lead their peers or lead exciting activities and thoughtful programs, but every one of them leads. And every one of them also leads in the most powerful way a person can lead – through their example, by living in a way that when young people see them, they see Christ.
As you can see this job has significantly more responsibility than the title summer staff implies. The people who have these jobs are more than just staff, they are leaders, all 1200 of them.
So, in light of this reality, during summer staff training (in the future to be called leader training) I announced that we would no longer refer to them as summer staff, but instead, from this point forward they would be known as summer leaders. It’s a title that is worthy of the work these committed people do.
So I asked myself, “how does this old maxim apply to other kinds of leaders, ones who are not pastors?”
So here’s my take on it.
First, “Feed them” implies giving people the tools, time, encouragement, and clarity of expectations, training, and coaching they need to successfully do their work now and into the future. It means providing both challenging and meaningful work while assuring people have what they need to meet every challenge and, at the end of the day, be successful. Feeding people is building into them professionally and personally.
Then the second requirement of leadership is to “Love them“. How can we love those entrust to our leadership? We start with treating them as people created in the image of God. We can do this simply by knowing and using people’s names. People love and need to be known. We make sure we understand what people do in their work and the contributions they make to the team. Then we should never stop thanking them. We get to know people on a personal level so we can lead them in a way that brings out their best. We also show an interest in them beyond what they can do for the team. This means being committed to well-being of their professional lives (goals, fears, desires, calling, development, etc.) as well as their personal lives (family, hobbies, spiritual).
If, as leaders, we can effectively feed and love people, then, and only then, will we earn the right to lead them, to be granted the privilege to be their leaders. Without earning this right, by definition, we’re not leaders because we simply will have no lasting followers, just people stuck till they can find another leaders and team.
So challenge yourself by answering the following questions about the people entrusted to you. Then earn the right to lead by actually do what you’ve said you will do in each answer.
- What will I do this week to feed them?
- How will I tangibly express my love for them this week?
- What will I do this week to feed them?
It’s the day after the 2014 mid-term elections and I’m reminded once again by the importance trust plays in the relationship between leaders and those who choose to follow. In politics, it seems, we’ve become obsessed with what I call Ethical Trust. Ethical Trust’s built when people share the same core values and the same fundamental beliefs about the world. It’s a powerful trust that drives so much of our political process. And, for sure, it’s the most important trust. It’s hard to follow a leader where there’s little or no ethical trust.
But because it’s the most important trust, we tend to believe it’s the only trust a leader needs. But it’s not. A leader needs, and a potential follower should demand, a second absolutely essential trust. You see it’s one thing to have Ethical Trust but there’s another kind of trust built on making good on the implied promises Ethical Trust makes. This second trust is what I call Competency Trust. It’s the trust that comes when a leader can and actually meets or exceeds performance expectations and delivers on their commitments. They deliver because of their experience, ability and will to succeed. Too often we vote for and elect officials (or put our hope in leaders) based only on Ethical Trust and we forget to ask – “can they actually deliver on our shared values and beliefs?”
So both Ethical and Competency Trusts are absolutely essential for a leader to succeed. Because earning the full and complete trust of those who choose to follow is the only way effective leadership happens. And without trust there is no leadership, only management, dictatorship, or simply ineffectiveness.
So whether you’re a leader, or choosing to follow one, never accept just one kind of trust, if you do, you’ll either disappoint or be disappointed because the job will not get done.