It is 3:43p Jack’s daughter, Melinda, just turned the last corner of her walk home from school. Jack is outside getting the mail. Melinda says, “Dad, I want to drop my Spanish class.” She had been practicing those words all the way home. She is a senior, gifted, and adrift.
Melinda: “It’s too stressful, and I’m not doing well in my other classes because there is too much work”
Jack: …………… ? He’s stumped.
[ Uh Oh! What would you do? ]
Jack is the COO of a large Colorado company that provides regulatory compliance services in the oil & gas industry. Jack has a serious work ethic – and, he believed he had taught that – and modeled it to all his kids. Jack does not quit, not ever.
Jack wanted to say, Melinda, that’s ridiculous! Buck up and do what you have to do! You made a commitment, now stick to it!
But Jack has also been working with me to level up his leadership skills. This means, in our work, to consciously practice the four elements of extraordinary leadership: Love, Truth, Deep Ownership and Congruence. Part of Jack’s challenge has been to bring these leadership skills home – and really practice what he believes everywhere in his life. This is the congruence part. So, Jack paused.
Before I go on, let me ask you: What would you do?
Here is what Jack wrestled with:
- Melinda is nearly 18, and very smart, very insightful and very strong-willed. Melinda has been begging Jack to let her make her own way and to not be in her business so much.
- Jack has been trying to create a culture of personal responsibility (what I call “deep ownership”) on his teams.
- He has come to believe that his employees need to have a basic framework of what is required and then take steps to meet those requirements according to the standards the company leadership has agreed to.
- He also believes that the people who are unhappy in their jobs may well be misusing their talents and need to be redirected toward their strengths and values. This is a purpose driven outlook on work.
- And some of these people may need to work elsewhere (or not, but certainly not there). He’s had a great deal of success during our time of working together, in creating a team of nearly all ‘A’ players.
- So – how can he apply this thinking, and these skills at home?
- Melinda is not yet an adult. But she’s close. So – let her drop Spanish? Or insist that she not? That is the question.
Jack was torn. Would you be? I am certain I would be!
He decided NOT to decide for her. He decided to talk to her. This seems so obvious – yet so many of us who lead at work bring dictatorship home instead of real leadership.
Jack said to Melinda. “Oh sweetheart. My first reaction is tell you what to do, and why. But, I realize that this is not about me, and what I think. I want to understand what’s going on for you about this. Can we sit down here and talk about it? Tell me what’s going on.”
Jack was choosing powerfully. In that moment, He chose TRUTH (over posturing). To be sure, this was his truth, not really the truth. He chose to be authentic about what he was feeling and thinking. He acknowledged that his impulse was one thing, but his beliefs led a different way.
Jack also chose LOVE (over fear). The fear reared up first; fear that if he didn’t come down hard on Melinda, she would go astray. He had fear that he had failed her, and that if he ‘let’ her drop her class now, she would forever be a quitter and it would be his fault. In this conversation, he remembered his commitment to the four leadership principles and chose to notice his fear and choose otherwise. Choosing love, in that moment, meant being curious about what was going on with Melinda, and asking her.
Jack – you already guessed, I’m sure – also practiced here DEEP OWNERSHIP. He took full responsibility for his own reactions, and he requested of Melinda that she take full responsibility for her choices. This was perhaps the hardest thing, because for an executive man, it could seem that dictating what Melinda could, or could not, do was the highest form of ownership. However, Jack chose wisely. It is his intention that Melinda be powerfully confident in her life. And, it is critical that she trust herself and understand the experience of being responsible for not only her choices, but also the results of those choices.
And of course, the fact that Jack approached this situation with curiosity, love, openness and ownership was a breath of fresh air for Melinda, and was absolute CONGRUENCE.
Melinda explained her reasons to Jack. He would have chosen differently if he were in her shoes, but he agreed that she had thought the situation through for herself, thoroughly. And, he supported her choice. She dropped Spanish. Jack reasoned, this is the best time for Melinda to experiment with making choices like this.
The most significant outcome was this: When Melinda faced her father that afternoon, she had expected a fight. Instead she was able to be honest, and vulnerable. They ended in hugs. She felt honored and loved. Jack felt closer to her than he had since she was 6 years old. He could feel the healing begin. That day was a turning point in their relationship. And that was the most important thing of all.
Bringing Leadership Home: I suppose it is about results. However, perhaps more importantly, it is about joy.
To your continued amazingness,
© 2018 Focused Leadership Consulting and Lisa E. Hale, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.