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3 Leadership Lessons from my 3 year old

Leadership, like fatherhood, requires humility, patience, and presence.

A little over two weeks ago, we celebrated my daughter Keaton’s 3rd birthday.

She’s growing up fast. I used to think that was just a dumb cliche thing that parents said whenever they talked about their kids. Now its happening to me. Kids growing up faster than you’re ready for them to grow up is no cliche.

I am learning that my heart needs to grow as fast as my daughter does if I am going to keep up. As I have reflected on this, I have come to think that leadership and fatherhood have a lot in common. Here are at least three similarities that I can think of.

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Humility

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Humility. @DanielTStephens

Left to my own devices, I am an arrogant, self centered narcissist. No one has helped me to see that more than Keaton. When we’re in public and she does what toddlers do, I’ve had no choice but to bare the glares from onlookers and do my best to create a teachable moment. All the while she is making messes, throwing fits, and asking socially inappropriate questions.

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Arrogance, narcissism, and a self centered attitude lead to leadership failure just as much as they lead to failure in fatherhood. My job as a leader is to make sure that the people I lead have the tools they need and know what their task is. In order to equip and direct successfully, I have to be humble enough to teach and clarify.

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Patience

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Patience. @DanielTStephens

Even when Keaton has the skills and instructions to do what she is supposed to, she may not choose to. She knows how to clean her room. (Proud daddy moment, I think she’s better at chores than the average three year old). But she probably will never choose to clean her own room until she moves out from under my roof. (I don’t remember making that choice for myself until I moved out either).

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Even though we have repeated the pattern many times now, Keaton still needs to be micro-managed while doing her chores. Our pattern is that I’ll pick an item that needs to be put away, and ask, “Keaton, where does that stuffed bunny go?” She’ll tell me where she thinks it goes, and I’ll respond with either, “That sounds good.” or “I don’t think so, maybe it should go…”

The whole process, even after Hurricane Keaton has made a level 5 landfall, takes 20-30 minutes. I still have not been successful in asking her to clean her room on her own. She’ll usually pick up one or two items and then get distracted.

The same thing happens in leadership. Even after expectations have been explained and tools have been provided, each person’s potential takes time to realize. Leaders need patience in order to draw out their team’s full potential.

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Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Presence

Leadership, like Fatherhood, requires Presence. @DanielTStephens

There are different levels of Presence. As a father, I need to be physically present so that Keaton will at least recognize my face. I need to be mentally present so that Keaton knows that I am paying attention. I need to be emotionally present so that Keaton knows who I am and feels loved.

It is not possible to be humble or patient with people when your head or heart are in different places than your hands. If you are going to lead, your head, heart, and hands all need to be present and available to the people under your charge.

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By Dan

Founder, Executive Director, Mental Health Counselor at Restored Life Counseling