The 8 Leadership Lessons My Sons Taught Me At Dinner Last Night

My sons taught me 8 valuable lessons about striving for your goals at the dinner table last night. These sages are 6 and 4 years old and their lessons were highlighted in their actions not their words. The bottom line: Your choice determines if you reach your goals or not.

photo credit: Anushruti RK via photopin cc

Let me set the scene. It was dinner time. Our kids had salad on their plates they were reluctant to eat. The deal was simple. If you eat your salad, you can have one cupcake.

I don't call this a bribe, I call it an incentive. If they don't want to eat the salad, they don't have to. We don't yell or scold or anything. They choose to eat what they are served or not however they don't get treats or another food option if they choose not to eat what's on their plates.

Son #1 slowly but surely ate the salad. Though he stopped, he keep going after being reminded of the incentive. He finished his salad and received his cupcake.

Son #2 started to eat the salad. Slowly but surely he stopped. He too was reminded of the incentive but he decided he was finished. He did not receive his cupcake.

Let's examine the lessons my sons can teach leaders when it comes to goals.

4 Lessons from Son #1

Son #1 didn't like that the goal was so far away. He had to sludge through the equivalent of a 1/2 cup of salad but he kept his eye on the proverbial prize. He was distracted and at one point gave up until he decided to come back and finish up. It took him 30 minutes to eat his salad but he did.

1. Reaching for your goals will always take you out of your comfort zone.

You can't stay safe and achieve great things. If it were possible, everyone would achieve greatness. Let me be clear, you determine what is great for you. For my kids, "great things" equaled a cupcake. Your "great thing" maybe different from someone else's "great thing" and that's fine. Resist comparing yourself to others. Great things always requires stretching. 

2. You may not like the taste of what you have to ingest to reach your goals.

I see this with my clients all the time. They want the goal but once we start diving into who you have to become or what you have to do in order to get it, they begin to back peddle. Since we know reaching for your goals requires stretching, it will mean you will be uncomfortable. The good news is that's normal. You have to get used to greatness. It has to grow on you and it may not taste good at first.

3. Time is up to you.

I was reading the biblical story about the children of Israel's entrance into the promised land. Did you know it was an 11 day journey from enslavement in Egypt to the promised land? Yet it took them 40 years to get there. Most people scoff the Israelites because it took them so long but how many of us are going around the same mountain? The time it takes to accomplish your goals is up to you doing the necessary work. It took son #1 30 minutes but he got there. It takes as long as it takes. Being first is not always the point.

4. Attitude elongates or hastens the perception of time.

Both of my sons had a bad attitude about eating veggies. This attitude made dinner drag on forever. In truth, not much time had passed but it felt like much longer to all of us. Once son#1 decided to make eating his veggies a game, he was done before he knew it. The lesson here is that you perception becomes your reality. You can find ways to make mundane yucky things palpable. To illustrate this point, Marshall Goldsmith, executive coach to Fortune 500 CEOs, often describes two flight attendants. Both are on the same flight, wear the same uniform, and use the equipment. The difference between a flight that lasts forever and one that was great is the attitude of the attendants. 

4 Lessons from Son #2

Son#2 didn't like that the goal was so far away either. He came very close to finishing but decided not finish. He was distracted by other things and decided it was a better use of this his time to be excused and go play.

1. Go as far as you can.

When you go as far as you can, you've already gone farther than you ever have. Eating a little bit of veggies is better than eating none. Often we are so obsessed with achieving the goal that we forget to see the successes along the way. Many of my clients are recovering perfectionists. I am too. Their perfectionism has robbed them of a lifetime of accomplishments. They don't recognize, much less celebrate, their progress. Go as far as you can and you when you do you will find something to celebrate along the way.

2. Choose your goal carefully.

Did you pick your goal or did someone pick it for you? So many of the women I work with feel like they are living a life chosen for them. If you carefully select your own goal, you are far more likely to keep going when the going gets tough. I chose the incentive for son#2, had I given the choice to choose, perhaps he would have done what was required. You are in control of your choices so choose carefully.

3. Choose where you spend your time.

Son#2 decided to spend the little time he had after dinner playing with the car he got for his birthday. He didn't want to stay at the table drudging through lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage. When we are pursuing a goal we have to make choices about where to spend our time and energy. 

4. Pivoting is not the same as giving up.

When you stop doing something to do something that is better for you, that is not giving up, it's pivoting. I'll admit at first I was disappointed my son didn't finish his salad. But when I looked at his plate and saw he ate 99% of it, it was clear he didn't give up. He just made a different choice. In her book Pivot Points, leadership consultant Julia Tang Peters describes the five pivotal decision points that define a leader. One of those decisions is the turning point decision. The turning point is a decision that alters your course. My son pivoted from the course that would land him a cupcake and onto the course that would allow him the freedom to pick what he wanted. He didn't give up in a defeatist attitude. He pivoted. It takes far more courage to pivot than to give up. Don't beat yourself up for not finishing what you started. Be BRAVE and pivot. 

There you have it folks! The 8 lessons my sons taught us about leadership. 

Which lesson spoke to you the most?

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