Leaders Come from Anywhere

By Melissa Stefanec

As parents, we want to have answers for our kids. We want to be a beacon of truth in a world full of chaos. However, the learning opportunities are a two-way street. If we keep an open mind and actively listen, children can teach us a lot about ourselves and the world around us.

I recently completed a leadership course through a local business consultant. The class was untraditional, as far as leadership-development courses go. However, it was quite useful. It forced me to take a hard look at myself and my potentially negative behaviors — at work and at home. As I sat through weeks’ worth of classes, I found myself going back to the same thought: Everything (good or bad) starts in the home.

So how does all of this relate to learning being a two-way street? I pinky promise it does.

As the end of my leadership course drew near, I had to assemble a presentation for the class. In our presentations, we all had to answer the same five questions, which I will obscure to preserve the consultant’s secret sauce. When I started to assemble my presentation, I started to hit dead ends. I felt what I was writing was trite. I feared it would be redundant — and I wanted to be insightful. So, I did what so many of us adults do when faced with a crisis: I started overthinking things.

The more I overthought it, the more forced and trite my presentation started to sound. I needed input. More importantly, I needed input from a mind that would give me fresh perspectives and clear thoughts. As I sat scorning the page, I listened to a light-saber battle upstairs. It suddenly became clear. I wanted to interview my kids.

The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Young kids have to follow a lot of leaders. Everywhere they go, they are told what to do. Kids probably have pretty good ideas regarding what makes a good leader or bad leader, and they won’t mince words or overthink it.

I called my kids down to where I was working. What they shared with me blew me away. First, I asked my 5-year-old a simple question: What can I do to be a good mommy? He answered, “Be nice and be happy.” I asked if I should still give consequences. With a sideways glance and a little smugness in his voice, he replied, “Yes, sometimes.” He then threw his arms around me and ran back upstairs.

Be happy. Be nice. Others will follow.

I then called my 8-year-old daughter downstairs. I asked her plain and simple, “What makes a good leader?” What she said may well be some of the best leadership advice I will receive in the course of my career. She said, “Help. Be kind. Have fun.”

Be helpful. Be kind. Enjoy yourself.

I pressed her with a grown-up question and asked what leaders should do when things get tough. She said, “Find a way to fix it and don’t give up.” I pressed her further, wanting to crack her flawless replies. I asked what leaders should do when they get mad. She said, “Take a deep breath and say you’re sorry.”

There’s more insight in that than most adults could convey. As I mulled over her responses, she bounded back upstairs. However, a few minutes later, she reappeared.

‘If we keep an open mind and actively listen, children can teach us a lot about ourselves and the world around us.’

“I thought of something else leaders should do, Mommy. They should stick up for people and always be thankful.”

Fight for everyone. Show gratitude.

The heavy tasks implied by her simplistic responses weighed on me. My kids had just taught me some valuable lessons about how to be a great leader. They taught me to keep it simple. Furthermore, they taught me most problems in life have very simple solutions.

They also taught me leaders listen to other leaders, no matter how tall or old they are (or how many cookie crumbs they have on their faces). Leaders come in many forms, and my home is lucky enough to have four leaders.

When you’re a parent, learning is a two-way street. I hope I can take what they taught me and put it into practice in this crazy, beautiful world.