A Leadership Lesson From My Daughter
My eleven year old daughter, Ashley, looks up at me, there is a timid expression on her face. “Dad, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure, honey, what is it?” I ask.
“Not here.” She looks over at her brothers playing around the car in the driveway. We just returned from a night out with my parents. “I need to speak with you alone.”
“Oh, okay.” I respond, surprised by her request. I follow her to the back of our house, curious to what she needs to speak with me about and alone at that. She turns around and faces me. Her eyes betray her, I can see the fear and caution in her gaze. She is afraid to speak, but does so with courage in her voice. “It wasn’t right the way you snapped at us back at the restaurant.” She blurts out.
I step back and look down at her. “Okay.”
“I don’t like it when you snap at us when you get mad. You are always talking to me about my attitude and how I approach things and that I need to learn to be more patient and slow to anger.” She breaks eye contact with me and looks down at her feet. “You are not setting a good example, Daddy, you are not showing good leadership.”
My heart sinks. I look away from her and think about how I treated my kids tonight. It’s true, I was short with them. It’s been a long day and I’m tired. My kids were bouncing off the walls at the restaurant, because they were excited to be back in school and to see their grandparents. I was short and irritable with them. I acted exactly the way I tell them NOT to do.
“How do you expect me to get better, if you don’t show me the right way, Daddy?” My daughter interrupts my thoughts. I look down at her and wipe the tears forming in her eyes.
“You’re right, Ashley, I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you.” She responds and collapses in my arms, wrapping her arms around the small part of my back and squeezing hard. “I love you, she whispers into my chest.”
“I love you too.”
Being a father is the most challenging leadership position in the world. I can’t fool my kids, they call me out every time. They know immediately if I’m not being authentic and are my most powerful accountability partners.
My daughter reminded me of the most important leadership principle that night, the principle of setting an example. I must be the person I ask others to be. I must model the behavior I espouse if I have any hopes of others emulating it. It’s easy to ask others to change or to be a certain way, but it’s imperative that I model the right behavior and remain consistent in my actions.
My daughter, at eleven years old, displayed incredible leadership when she confronted me with my behavior. She modeled three leadership principles, herself, by her actions:
- Courage. I can’t imagine how hard it was for her to confront me. She is scrawny and only 4’9” tall. I must look like a giant towering over her when she looks up at me. She stood firm, looked me in the eyes and expressed her complaint with clarity and conviction.
- Respect. She chose not to confront me in front of the rest of our family, to include my parents. She pulled me aside and confronted me in private as to not embarrass me.
- Forgiveness. Once I apologized, she did not hoard my mistake over me. She didn’t hold it against me for emotional leverage. She accepted my apology and gave me the gift of forgiveness.
I walked away from our conversation stunned. My daughter displayed powerful leadership and I felt small when I went into the house. Ashley never brought it up again, but our conversation resonated in my heart. I replayed our conversation in my mind like a movie clip over and over again, promising myself that I will do better.
It’s hard to accept correction from my daughter, but I’m encouraged by her actions, for I know she is growing into a lovely young woman and a leader in her own right. I know that I will never stop growing myself and it’s imperative that I’m always willing to learn and correct my mistakes, even when it’s my own daughter teaching me the lesson.
Although I was disappointed in myself that night, my heart warmed at Ashley’s reaction to my bad behavior. She did the right thing and she led me to make a better decision. I fell asleep with the comfort of knowing that there is more than just one leader in our household, and I’m very proud of her.