Y’all might know that my son recently ran for 3rd grade class President. He was nominated by his classmates and was quite honored. In class the candidates picked their campaign teams, created posters, and brainstormed speech ideas.
This class election was a part of the 3rd grade unit on government. The election between 3 candidates came with some basic rules of fairness and other guidelines. The teacher was clear about not making empty promises like, “I will end all testing for the rest of 3rd grade.” Not really something you should promise because it just ain’t gonna happen.
Honestly, my son left my husband and I out of a lot of his strategizing and we really had to pry to find out campaign updates. He did finally open up when he was seeking some extra support from us for his big speech, the one he would deliver to his classmates before the vote.
A few hours of working with my son on his Presidential speech presented us with some remarkable teachable moments about leadership that I am so grateful to have had. Not sure when we would have had these mini conversations otherwise.
I spent a lot of time after the speech was complete thinking about those teachable moments and how special they really were. I spent enough time thinking about them that I finally thought maybe I should share them with you.
Teachable Moment #1: Breaking down leadership qualities.
At first my son was stuck in his speech writing because he really wanted to promise his classmates something. He couldn’t get rid of tests, or homework, or behavior charts. What could he promise?
This was our first opportunity to flip the script on him a bit, to ask him to suspend the idea of promising something and instead promise that he was right for the job because he has what it takes to be a leader.
So, what does it take to be a leader?
The answers didn’t flow as easily as I thought they might have for him. However we did eventually come up with some key qualities:
- Service (this was a biggie)
With this list my kid could start to write and focus on examples showing he had these qualities.
Teachable Moment #2: You are not in charge.
We all had a good laugh when my son announced he really hoped he won so he could “be in charge and make decisions”.
Nope, not exactly the way it works, Bud.
Imagine his surprise (and mild disappointment) when we used that opportunity to teach him that leadership isn’t about being in charge but rather about working with everyone and being of service.
He hadn’t really thought about it that way but now that we mentioned it he could see how that made sense.
Then he started thinking about how exactly he could work for his classmates and working that into his speech.
Teachable Moment #3: The Art of Creative Compromise.
I think the teachable moments we had jumped on so far were a bit of a humbling experience for our candidate. Positions of leadership, even 3rd grade Class President, were not about glory and unchecked power to declare lunch on Fridays will from now on and always be gummi bears and ice cream.
So far his speech was coming along nicely with some strong examples of valuable leadership qualities. But he definitely wasn’t satisfied with that being it.
His dilemma was that he couldn’t promise anything.
Or could he?
Leadership means trying to work with everyone to find a compromise everyone can feel good about. Thinking outside the box is a hard thing to teach but with a few awkward examples from me, my son decided that even if the teacher’s rule meant there would usually be homework on Fridays, maybe they could at least start their homework in the last few minutes of class on Friday and get head start.
Ah ha! Creative compromise.
This candidacy was a rich opportunity to for all of us to revisit the idea of what it means to be a leader. Personally, I followed up with a bit soul searching and thought of my own role as a leader in my home, in my career, in my community. This experience made me do a mental checklist of which qualities I would like to see more in myself.
For my son, he walked away with a much better sense of what leadership is truly supposed to be. And that even if you bestowed a leadership position, things get more challenging from there. It is work.
I am going to say this was a meaningful experience for all of us.
There are times when I mess up the whole parenting thing but I think things turned out alright this go around. These kids might possibly stand half a chance despite me.