published Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Baumgardner: Lead kindly by using teachable moments

Julie Baumgardner

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf gave this leadership advice: "Never walk past a mistake." How should parents address and correct the mistakes of their children in ways that produce the best outcomes?

Recently Dr. Mark Mendenhall, a leadership expert, shared a story about his daughter. Years ago, after purchasing a new truck, the family had been instructed not to ding the truck's doors when they were getting into their other vehicle, a van.

"I was taking our daughter to school in our van," said Mendenhall. "She came bouncing out the door with her pigtails flying and a smile on her face. I thought, 'I hope she remembers not to ding the truck when she opens the door.' She opened the door to the van and hit the truck door, then turned and said, 'Hi, Daddy!' I lit into her for dinging the door -- and then watched her face transform from smiling and excited about the day to her head hung down with tears in her eyes. Silence filled the van. I was seething; she was fighting back tears. After dropping her off, I asked myself, 'What just happened?' "

Mendenhall referred to that encounter as a "mechanical moment." Instead of seeing his daughter as a person with feelings who probably did not get out of bed that morning planning to dent her daddy's truck, he viewed her more like a means to an end.

"There are two different ways to view and relate to people," said Mendenhall. "One way is to think of people as a means to an end, like a toaster. As long as they do what you want, pop up the toast without burning it, you are fine with them.

"Or you can think of the other person more in terms of their inherent value. We see the other person possessing strengths, weaknesses, talents and as being uniquely human and deserving respect."

When he responded to his daughter, he was thinking more about his truck and dents in the door and less about his daughter and their relationship. Should she have been more careful? Yes. But he could have responded and corrected her differently.

Would you rather have people treat you as a means to an end or from a value perspective? How parents lead at home teaches children about themselves as well as how to treat others.

When people were asked to think about a leader they enjoyed working with and to describe how they felt when they were involved with that leader, they used words like: valued, empowered, encouraged, respected, motivated, proud, challenged, safe and optimistic.

These words are probably descriptive of what most parents hope their children experience under their leadership. When children are treated as a means to an end, they will feel unappreciated. Family mission statements, clear expectations, family rituals and relationship building are important pieces of parental leadership. It is through these experiences that parents are able to call out strengths in their children and help them identify areas that need work.

Parents who lead well may inspire their children to have a vision for the future. Take time to recognize the impact of your influence, and consider the teachable moments you will lead with today.

Email Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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