“Confidence is a very fragile thing.” – Joe Montana
My son Bryce is a 15 year old dynamo. He is a musician, an artist of sorts, a philosopher, an athlete and a polymath. It is a challenge to keep up with all of his interests. He also has the latest generational knowledge base and the more recent complicated multi-view and dimensional perspective of the world we live in.
As a Gen X’r myself, I like to think of myself as fairly progressive. Bryce and his generation have left my kind of progressive thinking in the dust. I am constantly learning and seeking to grow myself to keep up with him. The challenge here is the idea of “keeping up” as opposed to leading and supporting. The kids today have access to everything, there isn’t a fact known to man that they can’t discover themselves on their own. This provides them with explicit raw knowledge less the experience and tacit knowledge which comes with age and wisdom. Regardless, it is difficult and in some cases almost impossible to take a parents experience and overlay it or argue the “facts” from the multiple sources where they gain insight and information.
Bryce is mostly reasonable, he is willing to talk about things, express his perspective and engage in active dialogue. There are definitely things we don’t agree on but I consider this normal and healthy. Bryce from an early age has a natural propensity to lead others. This kind of leadership isn’t the image of the kid standing in the middle of the playground yelling for everyone to “follow me.” His style is more about creating an environment and conditions where things go towards a direction or outcome. It is much more passive than the outward “I tell you to do things” sort of mentality. Bryce has three brothers and with that three separate personalities he’s had to navigate for most of his life. In order to get what he needs or wants as an outcome, he’s needed to find the right words or actions. Persuasion vs manipulation and tone setting.
What he discovered early on is the idea and concept of him as a person being a multitude of personality. He is more than just a Bryce, he is Bryce outside, Bryce inside, Bryce on demand and chill Bryce. I am sure there are more! I ask myself on a frequent basis how to help him be the best of himself in any Bryce mode. Many of us as parents struggle with the same question and we ourselves feel or believe we are failing if things don’t go the way we think it should. I know I fail him sometimes but I consider my failure an opportunity to learn something myself. Reflectively as a child myself, I understand that it is difficult to understand how much a parent loves their children. If you have a child, they become more important than the world, the universe, or anything else for that matter.
I ask myself, “How can I best lead Bryce?”
Here’s what I know… I can’t beat the facts of the world, the internet, the social media. Even if these facts aren’t really facts. When I was kid, I was like Bobby Boucher in the movie Waterboy. “Mama says that alligators are ornery because they got all them teeth and no toothbrush.” Today, the internet and twitter say …
What we can do
First, I am honest about what I know and what I don’t. There’s always something to learn and I seek to expose that I am open to learning. This isn’t about being right or wrong as much as expressing the reality of our complicated world. After all, I did think George Washington chopped down that cherry tree.
I have offered my from own perspective that confidence is important and we should be mindful of the fragility of confidence. Being vulnerable as a leader is healthy place to be. Expressing confidence with a healthy balance of reality is a something I have shared with him.
We have to allow kids to feel and gain the experience on their own. I like to think of it as the difference between playing a sport yourself vs observing the sport. It is a heck of a lot different to feel the baseball hit the bat in your hands as a player. In leadership, we can express to our children the who, what, when, why and how of interactions, relationships and the dynamics but it is much different when they are in the seat themselves.
Recently, there was a situation where Bryce was working in a leadership role. I offered him some perspective from being in similar position myself. He was very confident in his approach and while I had an expectation on the outcome based on his approach, I knew that I could only offer the advice. In the end, his approach worked to teach him a valuable lesson in leadership. My hope as a parent is that he allows himself to learn from it.
A good friend of mine works with thousands of kids as a leader in education. Something he said to me recently struck a chord which I’d like to share with you. We can tell our kids anything we want and they can comprehend what we are teaching them but in many kids today, they don’t care. In other words, they understand the consequences of their actions and can see the outcome but still choose to ignore and take the action regardless.
This is a symptom of our rapidly changing environment, society and desire for experience.
In order to lead our kids, we need to understand when to follow them. If we follow, we can take the opportunity to be there for them when they have their experience. At the same time, we have to demonstrate our own willingness to be flexible, learn and grow. On many occasions even with all my experience and knowledge, I am wrong about things. I have to acknowledge that I may not know something.
When it comes to the important fundamentals, I have shared with all of my children that we require respect, trust, integrity, love and these must be proven through activity and demonstration. As a parent, it is my responsibility to support Bryce through showing him that I am willing to practice myself what I preach. If I don’t, he is much smarter than I am and will see through it.
The best way to lead Bryce is to help him set the rules, boundaries and conditions, let him know that he is a leader himself and recognize his leadership. When the time is right, follow his lead and allow for him to make mistakes and feel the “tink” on the baseball bat, where the sound reverberates through your body and your hand and arm feels ball touching the bat. No words will convey qualia and this is something we have to realize if we are to help our kids become the best leaders.
In support of Bryce, when he fails, I’ll be here and I won’t tell him “I told you so” even though I want to do that. He doesn’t need it and it won’t help. In support of him, I’ll be here for him how he needs me, when he needs me, in the way he needs, not in the way I think he needs.
As there isn’t a formula, this is a lot about love and understanding… I am lucky to have my Bryce and he teaches me a lot more than I teach him.
Supporting young leaders boils down to a few things..
- Be honest an open.
- Accept when to lead and follow.
- Be available and of service to them as they need.
Leading with love applies to all … Hope this helps you in some way!