3 Things I Learned from my “Threenager”

Our teams, like our children, are mirror images of us as leaders.  Here are three things I was reminded of about leadership from my three year old daughter.  

3 Things I Learned from my “Threenager”

My wife and I welcomed our new son about eight weeks ago, which now makes us the proud parents of two wonderful children.  Since the birth of our son I have been spending much more time at home to help out and begin the adjustment process of having two little ones running around.  My three year old daughter and I are basically inseparable and have been since she was born.  I love her unconditionally despite going through her “threenage” phase, and the more time I spend with her the more I realize that she is teaching me as much as I am teaching her. 

This past weekend the family went to pick out our Christmas tree and begin the process of decorating for the holidays.  When we returned to the house I pulled the tree off of the top of the car, and in the driveway gave it a few big shakes.  Sure enough hundreds of pine needles fell to the ground, and my daughter looked at them in utter dismay.  She looked at me with a stern face and said “daddy you clean that mess up!”  I chuckled and proceeded to take the tree towards the house.  She stopped me in my tracks and again said “daddy no you clean that up now!”  I put the tree down near the door, opened the garage and got a push broom to start cleaning up.  She is the boss after all.

For the next twenty minutes my daughter lorded over me with the persistence of the most ardent task master.  She would frequently bend over and point to a needle that I had missed and say “no you missed that one.”  Several times she gave me a big sigh and took the broom from me because she was going to do it the right way.  She’s three, so naturally all she did was push around the piles that I had already swept.  My tiny dictator offered me no quarter and in no uncertain terms made sure that I completed my task to her satisfaction before I was allowed to move on to the focus of the day, which was getting the tree set up so that we could start decorating. 

As I reflected on the awesome day with my family I couldn’t help but think of how much my little girl reminded me of several of the leaders that I had worked for in the past.  Those adult leaders had not progressed much past the prowess that my three year old daughter had displayed.  I vividly recall some of the leadership lessons that I learned from those leaders and those experiences:

  1. Make the Mission Not Your Agenda the Priority – In this case the most important event of the day was decorating for the holidays.  In work terms my daughter paused a much larger operation to feed her need to accomplish her agenda while labor (my wife) sat idle waiting for me to bring the tree in.  Many leaders I have worked for felt the need to advance their own agendas while losing sight of the larger mission.  I have seen leaders halt entire divisions so that a spreadsheet could be produced, or small task be completed at the expense of the larger operation.  As a leader you must prioritize tasks and standards which may sometimes result in your personal agendas having to take a back seat to larger needs. 
  • You May Not Be the Best Person For the Job – When I wasn’t accomplishing her demands as quickly as she would have liked, my daughter took it upon herself to shove me aside and complete the task on her own.  Naturally, she set the operation back, and I still had to go back after her and fix what she “helped” with.  As a leader you need to let your team do what they were hired for.  There will be opportunities for you to teach, there will be times for you to get your hands dirty, but the reality is that you probably aren’t as good at the task as someone who does it every day.  You can teach them, help them, support them, and coach them, but at the end of the day you are probably far removed from being able to do the job as well as them.  Trust your team, it’s why you hired them.
  • The Mirror Principle – The simple version of the mirror principle is that your team will reflect what they see.  My sweet little girl wasn’t born with the understanding of how to be one of the most ruthless dictators in the neighborhood; she had to have learned it from somewhere.  When I am conscious of how I speak to her I remember to say please and thank you, and generally follow the golden rule.  However, as I think back, I have on many occasions told her to “pick up that toy” and pointed, or said “go potty now” as we rushed to get ready to leave the house.  My daughter has decided to not reflect my please and thank you statements, but rather found a comfort in simply dictating to the people around her.  Your team will do the same.  One of my greatest learnings came when I realized that people naturally key in on your weaknesses, not your strengths.  In many cases your team will reflect your weakest moments, so be cognoscente of how you speak and act at all times.     

The twenty minutes I spent sweeping (and re-sweeping) my driveway were a gift from my daughter which provided me with insight into my leadership, communication, and of course parenting style.  I encourage you to take a reflective minute to see if there are any learnings that you have gleaned from your family, that could be beneficial to you in the work place.  Our teams, like our children, are mirror images of us as leaders.  If something isn’t going right, you sometimes have to look at yourself before you look at them. 

Please feel free to send any questions to ccano@jlhleadershipsolutions.com.  

Thank You,

Chris Cano


JLH Leadership Solutions


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