One of the toughest challenges
powerful leaders face comes not in the workplace, but in their homes.
How can they be a leader/authority figure as a parent without overpowering their kids? Without casting too large a shadow?
During the 16 years that I have been running personal growth summer camps for kids and teens, I’ve been
humbled by lessons served to me from campers. One of the most important lessons came three years ago.
At our two-day staff retreat, several of our “young staff” (18-25-year-olds) surprised me by asking if they could handle something with me. I had known most of these young men and women since they were 8-10-year-olds, and they had kind of grown up with us over many years at camp. They told me that they were feeling disrespected because at times they felt like I was still treating them like campers. As I listened and reflected on what they were saying, I realized they were right. I was still subconsciously seeing them as campers/students through the eyes of the teacher/leader. They wanted to be seen and treated as equals. They had a lot they wanted to teach me and to add to the camp experience. I hadn’t totally switched the way I saw them in my mind.
And then it struck me that I was doing the same dance with my three kids, two in college and one in high school. I was comfortable in my role as father, teacher, leader and advice giver, yet it was time for
me to give up some of that power and mindset and see my kids as adults who had much to offer me.
But I guess it’s not as easy as it sounds, letting go of control and of always being in charge. Two years
ago at a family camp that I run with my wife, Anne, we did a team-building challenge exercise with the
families. I had seven kids and five parents who had to get their team across a lava pit using magic carpet
squares. Before they started, I suggested that the parents should step back and let their kids do most
of the suggesting and leading. The first few attempts failed, with the parents doing most of the talking.
Next, I had imaginary tsetse flies bite the parents, making them mute. They still did most of the talking
throughout the next two failed attempts. I then blindfolded the parents so they couldn’t talk or see, and
the kids finally were able to take over the leadership. After much sweat and excitement, the final two team
members, a dad and his 14-year-old son, leaped across the finish line and the team exploded with joy.
When I asked the parents what they learned from the exercise, they all said the same thing: They realized
how often they take the leadership role at home, despite how capable and competent their kids are. They
realized that they were robbing their kids of opportunities to lead and grow and build their confidence.
Since that staff meeting three years ago, I have been very sensitive to seeing and treating our young staff
members as equals; giving them more opportunities to lead and be valuable, and, most importantly, honoring who they are and have become as adults. It’s actually been very fulfilling and enjoyable – and relaxing – to now have many captains of our camp ship.
So consider getting out of your comfort zone leadership role at home and following my lead. Your kids might
surprise you with how well they take the helm.