Six Leadership Lessons from a 3-year-old


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Six Leadership Lessons from a 3-year-old

By: Denise McCleese


My friend and I met for breakfast in a cute, quaint little town with a village-styled downtown area. The downtown area consists of their main street, which is paved entirely in brick and lined with small stores and restaurants. The restaurant we chose was buzzing with people and was clearly the place to be on this particular Friday morning.  We had some serious things to talk about, which is never easy with a 3 year old around, but thankfully my friend was a good sport and we made the best of it. As we wrapped up our time together after walking around the town, it was pouring down rain. My daughter began playing in the rain, it was pure joy for her. This part of our adventure is what caused me to reflect on our day and learn from the beauty of a toddler.  

Thank God for wherever He has you

Our food came and I said, “let’s pray.”  My three-year-old ALWAYS wants to be the one to pray and it often involves her thanking God for everything she has experienced thus far that morning, and then asking Him to bless our food. This particular morning was no different, but really made me smile. I knew when our food was delivered my daughter wasn’t going to like it–the bacon was thick, the bread was really thick and they only had sausage patties instead of links. As she prayed she thanked God that we came to this yucky place to eat!  

As I reflected on our day and thought of her prayer, I realized that’s what we should all do:  thank God no matter where He takes us.  We tend to make our gratitude contingent upon our circumstances. As leaders, God may have us in a yucky restaurant where we really don’t like the food, but He has called us to still lead, to still thank Him for where we are at. Do you thank God for where you are at even when you don’t like it?

Creatively solve problems

We were sitting in a booth that had a very high back.  My daughter wanted to see over the booth and people watch and she couldn’t–she didn’t like that. I watched as she began to go into problem solving mode. At first she was stepping on my purse, which I moved so she didn’t smash everything in it.  Eventually she took a small bucket that had crayons in it, dumped the crayons, put it upside down on the booth put one foot on top of it and the other foot on top of her first foot, held on to the top of the booth for balance, and suddenly she could see the world around her. She continued to tinker with her solution trying to add things to give her better balance (at one point I looked over and my cell phone was getting ready to get smashed!!).  

Do we look at the problems in our lives and say the, “booth is just too tall,” or do we think creatively and come up with solutions? There were so many nuggets in these moments with my daughter. As leaders, we must think creatively and allow others to watch us wrestle though solutions. Often we tend to share a solution once it is perfected, but how are others learning along the way if we don’t let them see us work through our problems? We also must let those we lead wrestle through their own solutions. As I watched my daughter, I saw her cycle through different ideas that might work to accomplish her goal. I also watched her want to bring some things into her solution, like my purse and phone that could have been destructive. It was my job to let her be creative, but keep her within her boundaries.  

See the best in people

I had taken my daughter to the restroom, which was a single-stall bathroom in a very narrow hallway area. As we were leaving I noticed a mom second in line outside the door with a baby who I guessed to be about 6 months old. I had noticed them on the way to the bathroom because the baby had a large growth or birthmark on her forehead. As we were walking very closely to them I grabbed my daughter’s hand to rush her along quickly because I saw her looking at the baby and could tell she was getting ready to say something. As we got past the mom, she said loudly, “what a cute little baby!”. The mom let out a sweet, “awe,” based on my daughter’s comment. This was a mom who probably had become accustomed to awkward stares or comments, even when nothing was said.  

I was reminded in that moment to look at people through the eyes of a 3-year-old. My daughter didn’t notice her “flaw,” she noticed her beauty. Do we do that in the people we lead? Can we train ourselves to be quick to see what’s right in someone and slow to see what’s wrong? Can we lead in a way that highlights someone’s best and not their worst? I want to see the best, the beauty in everyone in the same way I believe God sees the best in me EVEN when He knows the worst.

Don’t hide your struggles–be vulnerable

My daughter had taken her shoes off and had thrown them under the table. It was time for us to pack up to leave (and with her I literally mean pack up as we had stuff everywhere) and she needed to put her shoes on. She literally sat down in the middle of the floor, with a skirt on and struggled through putting her shoes on. Now, please remember I am NOT allowed to help with such tasks as putting on shoes because she can do it herself. So, there she was, legs spread apart in the middle of the dirty floor putting on her shoes and clearly frustrated with how it was going!

My instinct as a mom was to sweep her up take her in a corner and put her shoes on her. Why? Is it because I don’t want people to judge me with my kid sitting on the dirty floor, panties showing and struggling or because I don’t want them to see her struggle?  Maybe it is simply what the world has told us that it is wrong, but WHY? Why can’t a 3-year-old learning to be independent sit on the floor of a restaurant and put her shoes on? What I realized in that moment was she didn’t care that people were watching her struggle.  She needed to get her shoes on, a task that isn’t easy for a 3-year-old and she didn’t care that people saw that.  We tend to go in our offices, our homes, or our secret spaces to struggle.  We don’t let others see this is part of our reality so we create a false persona of what it is like to lead.  We make it look easier than it is because the easy part is all we let people see.  People see us in our shoes walking, but they never saw the struggle of getting them on!  

Share what you have been given

We stopped at a toy store that was going out of business and my daughter got a pink miner helmet with a light on it.  We also stopped at a cute little ice cream shop where she got a chocolate covered cone with superman ice cream in it.  She LOVED her new hat and her ice cream. She loved them so much she wanted to share, she had me try her yummy ice cream and she went over to another mom and daughter and had them try on her new hat.  

Are we excited to share what we have? If God gives you something new…a new idea, a new leadership opportunity, a new responsibility are you excited to share it or do you keep it for yourself?  The sweetest things in life are only best if others can share with us how good they taste or how fun they are! As leaders, we aren’t meant to keep things to ourselves. We are meant to pass them on and to share them with others around us.  Don’t hoard what God has given you, whether it be your opportunities or your resources. He has created us to be generous.  

Dance in the rain

As I shared earlier, as we were wrapping up our day the rain began to come down hard! My friend and I were standing under an awning staying somewhat dry, but my daughter was going crazy in the rain.  She was soaked and spinning around in circles in the downpour. She was finding puddles and jumping in them. She was truly joyful. I looked up and everyone waiting in the restaurant was pointing at my daughter dancing in the rain. One old man had his camera out and was taking a picture. An older woman walking into the restaurant said, ”watching her has made my day. We all used to be like that”. Her words pierced me…we all USED to be like that.  

Life is joyful, so dance in the rain! Life can be tough and all moments aren’t joyful, but when they are do you let those you lead see you dancing in the rain?  Do you ever just stop caring about how you look or what is next and just dance?  Was my daughter’s car seat soaked? Yes! Did her shoes probably get a little ruined? Yes! Was it a pain that she was soaked when we got home? Yes! But did she have fun? Yes! Probably more important were the many people who got to watch her experience a moment of joy and have their own nostalgia. Do we let life or leadership get so complicated that when we see someone dancing in the rain we say, “I used to be like that”?

On our little adventure in the quaint town with the downpour, a good friend, and a toddler reminded me of a few good lessons. People are always watching; we overcomplicate things, and life is worth living. Find your spots of pure joy, see the best in others, and dance! And don’t forget to dance with those you lead.  

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”716″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]Denise currently serves on the leadership team for Connection Pointe Christian Church. Her 20+ years combined leadership in the church and market place allows her to see the big picture while still focusing on developing our biggest resource, people! Denise lives in Brownsburg, Indiana with her husband Kevin. They have 3 children, Skyla, Devin and Kiley.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]