Where Leadership Begins


While everyone has lots of tryptophan running through their systems from extra helpings of turkey, we feel cozy and safe wrapped in the warmth of our family’s presence during the holiday season. When we come together with all of our glorious differences, we recognize the dynamics of life we have to negotiate during even the most treasured time of year. We determine who is the best cook and prioritize what has to go in the oven first to make the meal deadlines. We tussle for the best seat on the sofa for the football games and all join in to make quick work of the chaos we’ve created between the kitchen and the table. We collaborate, set schedules, and operate as teams based on our personalities and skill sets. We use our different views of nature’s glory to pick out that special tree we can all enjoy and then use our uniqueness to create a design like no other in the neighborhood. Roles are quickly defined on who carves, who leads the prayer of Thanksgiving, who serves, who is the best bartender, who takes out the trash, who can pack the refrigerator to get the best space usage of all the leftovers, who holds the remote all afternoon, and who is going to drive everyone to the first Christmas parade of the year.

Great sages, academics, and CEO’s write we’ll-researched and documented tomes about how one becomes a leader and whether it is a nature or nurture phenomenon. When we revisit the family, we see where the first notions of leadership are born and modeled in the smallest unit of community. Much has been made about birth order, whether there are one or two parents, which of the parents work, and who brings home the most money. Of course, our children observe all of these dynamics.

What else do they observe? How decisions get made? Is research done in advance of a major decision? Do they get to see that step before a major financial purchase? What drives the actions of the family? Is it contributions to community, volunteering, reverence for God, and family time? Do they see respect between their parents – the two people who are not only partnering to lead the family but the two who have an extra element of love that should make that characteristic appear with every interaction. Do they witness “inquire instead of accuse” when their own behavior is called into question? Do they experience age appropriate coaching from their parents – the asking of powerful questions that really allows someone to both think about how they want their own life to unfold as well as the parent engaging in listening regularly; establishing open communication channels.

Are they brought in on the family plans so they have a vision for where the family is going? Are there discussions about values, why they matter, and how consistency builds reputation and trust that will carry them through their lives? Do they have opportunities to make mistakes that, aside from appropriate punishment as boundaries are learned, are also used in a safe space to create learning moments? Are there discussions about what has been learned; how a failure can teach a better way to respond; how a missed opportunity can sometimes be a protective gift in life…..just like at work??

The thread through all of these interactions is appropriate and regular communication. However, just as in leadership roles in other areas of life, it is not always appropriate to share everything that those in leadership may know with everybody. While the much talked about transparency has its place, it does not always serve everyone well to share everything. Would a parent share with a young child, prior to a diagnosis, that there may be a life-threatening health problem before knowing the verdict? A leader or parent has to weigh the development and ability for each person for whom they are responsible, and the team, to handle the information shared. Would a parent allow a young teenager to venture out to a college party clearly unprepared for the obstacles and temptations that such a setting would bring? Would a leader encourage an inexperienced executive to negotiate a billion dollar deal for which stockholders were dependent?

If we are to be leaders, both capable and practiced, we must gain experiences that get us ready. Our homes are the daily R&D laboratory of life. When we come together as family, we are in the most intimate space in our lives; the place where we should work the hardest to get our partnership and leadership roles right….first and foremost because these are the people who love us most and where we learn forgiveness. As my Mother used to say, if you can’t treat your family right, you most certainly are not leaving the house to go somewhere else and be with others. She knew that home is where leadership begins.

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