Me: Can I look at the directions myself to navigate to the birthday party
Son: This shows that it’s hard for you to trust me
Yep, this was a real conversation between my kindergartner and me and revealed some powerful lessons on leadership.
But let’s rewind a bit
I can have some anxious moments when driving on new roads and we were going to a birthday party that we were already late for. I am one of those people who’d rather be 5 mins early than late and here we were definitely running late.
My son finds it absolutely delightful to hold the phone and read out directions when we are going someplace new. I can tell he finds it empowering to be able to do something he wasn’t able to do earlier (read instructions!) and partner with a parent on a shared mission.
But as an anxious driver, I also like to have the GPS closer to me so I can see where the next turn is. You can likely feel the tension in this dynamic between the two of us.
Now back to that specific drive. At one point he said, “You need to turn right and then left.” I tried to stay calm but was still nervous, changing lanes isn’t fun for me and I was unsure when the turns were. In my stressed voice, I said – Actually, can I please have the phone back?
He paused and said. I will give it to you but it shows that you can’t trust me.
Ouch. That wasn’t the message I wanted to send. It was really sad to listen to because this meant so little about my trust in his abilities and in our relationship but at that moment I knew I needed to make a different choice. I had to prioritize trust. Being a few additional minutes late was probably worth it in this situation so I pulled over. I took a deep breath, looked at the directions again, gave the phone back to my son, and told him where my anxiety was coming from and that had little to do with trusting him and that I was willing to have him read and give me instructions and level up in his abilities.
The point of my story is not to always give in to what our children or our teams want from us at all times but rather to give them moments and spaces where the stakes are not as high and they can experiment, take risks and build mastery over their skills.
It is very tempting to swoop in and rescue our teams especially when we as leaders know how to do something more effectively that we’ve done multiple times and sometimes that is needed. But note the “sometimes” and don’t confuse it with always.
If you “always” jump to get the outcome you want, you are depriving another human of the experience of struggling and ultimately finding joy and confidence in mastering a skill, of contributing to a solution, and ultimately learning to trust themselves to figure things out.
Over to you – What comes up for you as you read this story? Do you have a story where you gave someone some space to take the lead that had a meaningful impact on them?