Sometimes, it’s the children who teach us the most and it’s no different for me and my 4-year-old daughter, Maggie.
Take a glimpse into two recent scenes from around our kitchen table:
“Maggie, you’re starting Pre-K in the fall! If you sleep in your own room all summer, we’ll take you to Disneyworld. Sound good?”
“YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! How long is that?”
“Let’s make a construction paper ring chain. You can tear one off every morning after you sleep in your own bed all night.”
Summer progresses. Mostly, rings were torn off. But we had a few slip-ups. We got down to 10 rings and 5 nights before our trip. I pulled 5 rings off while Maggie was at school one day. Maggie comes home, sees the chain, studies it silently for a long, long time and then goes to her room. I find her crying under the covers.
“You broke the chain! You broke it! I didn’t break it, I didn’t cheat!”
Many tears later I saw that, in her mind, by helping her I set her up to lose. I thought about all the times that, in order to accomplish a goal at work, I’ve helped my employees get something done. I most likely unknowingly made them feel that they’d done something wrong, and that they were to to blame for a hidden mistake that led to a change I made.
I saw that rather than tearing down the extra chains, I could have used this opportunity to teach Maggie something new. I’ll take the time, next time, to teach rather than do.
It’s dinner and only 2 nights until Disney. I take a napkin from the tray on the table and find an uneaten Flinstone vitamin from breakfast.
“Maggie, is this your vitamin?”
“No….I don’t LIKE those vitamins.”
“Maggie, do we tell fibs? And do we hide our vitamins, or do we eat them? Disney is only for people who take their vitamins and don’t tell fibs.”
“No, it’s not! You can’t change the rules! Disneyworld is for kids who sleep in their own beds, that was what you said! Now YOU’RE telling a fib! I’m going to tell Grandma!”
Well played, Maggie, well played. She caught me changing the goal in the middle of the incentive period, and further, she knew the company org chart well enough to go straight to the top. I know many managers who are guilty of this and I now see how much it damages trust and creates a perception that the manager either was lying or was incompetent in setting the goal in the first place.
Maggie was also able to deflect from her own accountabilities because of my screw-up.
So, I need to work on being more clear and consistent and I need to take the time to teach, rather than do. Why a 4-year-old can help me see these things so much more clearly than a CEO is a problem for another day. Thank goodness I’m learning at all. And soon I’ll be learning with a pair of mouse ears on my head.
Photo credit iStockphoto