Last weekend, I was a leader. This was a refreshing change from my usual roles of benevolent dictator and resented micro-manager. I taught my sons how to ride a bike without training wheels. Actually, no, I didn’t. I helped them learn, which is different. See, we all learned something. I gained deeper insight into what leadership is and what it isn’t.
You can’t dictate learning to ride a bike. You can’t micro-manage it. You can’t make a person learn, and you can’t do it for them. But you can inspire and guide people, and then stand back and be amazed when they go far beyond your expectations. This is leadership. And it is awesome.
I shared my vision: Tomorrow is the day. It is going to be amazing! Just imagine how much fun we are going to have cruising the bike baths at the beach together as a family. You can ride with your friends to the pool, and we can bike to the froyo shop. You are going to love the freedom and the power of being a bike rider.
I provided perspective: It will take a bit of time, and it will require hard work. Yes, you do have to do it no matter how much you protest that you prefer the status quo. This is an imminently doable thing. Yes, you might fall a few times, but I will be there to help.
I expressed faith: I know you can do this. I know that you are a hard worker. I saw how well you did on your balance bike. I can see that you know how to pedal. You can do them at the same time. I appreciate that you don’t know that, so I will hold the knowing for you while you try.
I chased them around in a crouch so that my voice stayed in their ears, running a non-stop stream of encouragement. I held onto the back of the seat and relinquished control by degrees, always a bit before either of us were sure it was time. I observed how they responded to being led versus managed by the way they adopted it themselves, encouraging and reminding each other of the prize that was just within reach. I witnessed how their achievement sparked confidence in others, namely the little sister whose legs are still too short to even ride a trike but who was adamant that if they could do it, so could she.
My legs and back ached, but my heart swelled with pride, not just at them, but at myself. Because despite my knowledge and experience in the field of leadership, I spend a great deal of my time as a parent managing, not leading. It felt great. My son is proud of himself, too, and he is eager to push himself in other areas where he might previously have been willing to coast. Leadership can happen anywhere. And it works. It works so much better than carrots and sticks and fear and rules. Leadership isn’t about making people do things. It’s about inspiring people to strive for something better themselves.
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