When you become the parent to more than one child, the first thing people will tell you is how different your second child will be from your first. And as Sarah and I learned, a third child is also different from the first two. Each child has their own unique personality. No personality is better, just unique. It is up to us, the parents, to discover, develop, and appreciate each personality.
The same can be said for every person we interact with at work. Each person is unique and valuable in their own way, and that means that the way they interact with other people at work is also unique. As a leader, we have to be cognizant of this reality so that we meet people where they are. Because we validate who they are, they will feel that we’re worth following.
And the Wisdom to Know the Difference
As I shared in a recent post, I have been praying over whether I should coach my middle son Ben’s little league team this spring. To some, praying over something like that might sound silly. But given how much wisdom I need, I find praying is absolutely necessary.
I need all the wisdom I can get to understand how I can best relate to Ben. Coaching Ben’s baseball team last fall was challenging. And while I learned a lot from the experience, I also observed something during a late-season game. After stepping in to be the head coach for my older son Will’s team earlier in the day — the “real” head coach had been unable to attend — I ended up sitting out Ben’s game since there were already four assistants there. Sitting behind home plate, I was a fan for that game instead of a coach. I cheered, encouraged, and cheered some more — and Ben seemed to thrive.
The fact that he thrived when I was NOT coaching weighed on my mind, and I prayed about this all winter. Should I coach his team this spring? Sure, I did cheer and encourage when I was coaching, but my role also included holding all players (including Ben) accountable. Maybe he just needed me to be his fan and not his coach? Or maybe he’d be happier if I played a different “role” in his baseball journey? As I do with many things, I ran the idea by Sarah, and she immediately thought I might be on to something.
Still, I resisted not coaching Ben’s team for one primary reason: My son Will has made it abundantly clear that he liked me coaching his team. How would Ben feel about me coaching Will’s team and not his? I didn’t want Ben to think I was prioritizing his brother over him.
I Love Having You There
After praying about this again one night, it finally dawned on me that I should just talk to Ben about it. On the surface, this sounds somewhat crazy because Ben is only eight years old. But as you will find out in a minute, he is vastly more mature in his thinking.
To be honest, I had mentioned this whole ordeal to Ben a couple of times earlier in the winter, and so had his mom. This time I explained “why” and reminded Ben about that time last fall when I sat out coaching one of his games. He remembered that day. We agreed to think about it and talk again.
A few days later, I called Ben in again and reassured him that there was no wrong answer — I’d do whatever he wanted. This is what he told me:
“Honestly, it stresses me out when you coach. You are strict. I love having you there but it stresses me out.”
I then asked him about the time the previous fall when I sat out the game as coach and was there as just his biggest fan.
“I would love for you to just be my fan. I love having you there.”
The Value of Playing a Different Role
Ben’s feedback taught me a valuable lesson about parenting, and perhaps leadership. In my relationship with Ben, he was inviting me to play a different “role” in terms of his baseball journey. I was being moved from the dugout to the stands!
I am not going to lie and say that it was easy to hear your child say that your “strictness stresses them out” on the baseball field. In fact, part of me wanted to justify that I am not too strict, kids these days are soft, and blah blah blah. Instead, I listened to what Ben was saying.
“Okay, buddy,” I said, “What if I am just your fan this year. I’ll still split my time 50/50 so that I can be present equally for Will and you, but I’ll play a different role for each team. With Will’s team, I’ll be the assistant coach and with your team, Ben, I am just the number one fan!”
“That’s exactly what I want,” Ben said.
We then hugged, music played, and the scene faded to black.
Well not exactly. But you get the idea.
Meet Them Where They Are
Driving to work the next morning, I realized that I needed to write about my experience above because it taught me that leading adults is no different. Please hear me when I say that I often get that wrong as well — leading adults isn’t any easier. Some need me to lean in and play a more active role, while others need me to cheer from the sidelines. It depends on the unique personality of the individual I am leading.
So this is why I pray often for wisdom. It helps me consider how my God-given abilities match up to those I lead. Prayer also encourages me to seek feedback — my prayer is equally about listening as it is about asking. I receive feedback, then course-correct when I get it wrong.
If leadership is the art of being someone worth following, which kind of person would you want to follow? The one who adjusts their leadership style to suit your needs, or the one that expects you to adjust to them?
Circling back to my parenting decision, I could have forced my desire to coach Ben’s team. But that would have been about my preferences — and to a certain degree, my insecurities as a Dad. I would’ve missed out on what Ben really wanted.
My encouragement to you is to be the one who is ready, able, and willing to course correct so you can meet people where they are and really connect with them.
And if that means being their biggest fan, cheer loudly! It’s a role I plan to embrace all spring long.