I am so excited to write my first leadership blog. It’s funny because as an infant blogger, what I am finding is content for my blog is completely unplanned. It’s organic, it’s an experience and it originates in my head in the craziest of times [at church today] and when I live with awareness of the present moment [on my run this morning]. And also, I’m finding that content comes pretty naturally when you put yourself out there in life. And this weekend, Rick and I did just that. We put ourselves out there. Warning, this is a long blog…but worth it [humbly stated]. If you just want the lessons, scroll to the bottom 😉
After serving in The Loop, the children’s ministry at our church (aka Sunday School), the past 2 years, Rick had the brilliant idea that we should be “promoted” from watching the “walkers” (1-2 year-olds) to the elementary kids (first and second graders). You see, before this promotion request, we essentially were there to make sure none of the kids were fighting, we fed them a graham cracker snack, ensured they were safe and sent them back off to their parents. It was a great foundation for us and very easy. But, it was time to take the next step and (drum roll please), we were promoted to the elementary classroom! We were moving on up and putting ourselves out there.
We arrived on Saturday at 5pm sharp and I walked into the classroom and noticed I was the first adult there. Uh oh. I wondered if the main teacher was sick. The director of The Loop popped in, asked if I needed anything and I lied. Yes, I lied at church. I said, “Nope! I’m good, thanks!” How could I tell her I had no idea what the heck I was doing? “Oh, one question, Maggie…” Yes? she said. “Will there be a main teacher coming in?” “No, there may be a floater to assist but you guys should be set!” she said with a bubbly smile. S*%t! Oh yeah, and then I cursed in my head at church. What a great Christian I was.
As Rick took a call for work and would presumably be 10-15 minutes late, parent after parent came to drop off their children. I smiled uneasily, introduced myself and did my best to engage and direct the little ones on what to do (which was…um…I HAD NO IDEA!). Parents went off to church, about 10 kids piled in and stared at me with high expectations of what would happen over the next 90 minutes. I defaulted to the “what’s your favorite sport?” for the boys and “your dress is so pretty/fashion convo” for the girls. Nice. My blood pressure was rising and immediately in my head, the blame was shifted to Rick who had yet to come to the classroom to lead his wife and 10 kids (after all, this big promotion was HIS idea). At 5:15pm, after I enthusiastically and confidently told the kids to go draw on the white board and mingle (yes, I said mingle…can you tell I don’t have kids?!) before we would begin our lesson (there was a 6-page lesson plan and it was the first time I was seeing it), Rick arrived. I gave him a look and with the angry whisper voice told him I skimmed the lesson and would have to wing it. He said no, took the lesson plan from my hands and sat down to start reading it. What the…I thought. In true Rick fashion, he calmly tells me to continue to preoccupy the kids for another 10 minutes. One little girl saw what was going on and sweetly said, “Miss Ann? Sometimes the teacher let’s us draw so maybe we could have some paper and crayons until we get started.” Great idea! Whew. “Everyone write your name on the piece of paper and draw one of your favorite things!” I said excitedly with pride and thanksgiving for little Tessa and her brilliance. And oddly enough, there was excitement from the kids! SUCCESS! Rick finished reading the lesson plan and took over. Here were the highlights of our first day on the job:
- Rick did an awesome job leading the first lesson which was centered around Ecclesiastes 4:12 and the idea that standing alone in life is much harder than having friends, family, Jesus and God (this comes from the mouths of 8 year-olds) to stand with.
- I instantly learned the personality and strengths of each kid (the musician, the dancer, the skateboarder, the leader, the intellect, etc.) and we tag-teamed playing off of their strengths. Strengths-based leadership worked even at that age.
- Kids are resilient, super smart and love to sing and dance (that was the last 15 minutes of class and personally, my favorite part).
- The bias that boys are rowdier, smellier, noisier and more physical than girls is 100% true. At the end of the class, one boy, still hyper from dancing, busted out a dance move, turned around, stuck out his butt and farted at me. Case in point.
- The love of brands and the admiration of celebrities starts at such a young age! I was educated about Tony Hawk jeans, what building the Big Ben was connected to, what a ukulele was and some stats on D. Rose.
What does this have to do with leadership? First and foremost, I believe to be an effective and impactful leader, you, yourself, have to Put Yourself Out There. Get outside of your comfort zone. Volunteer. Run a marathon. Try a new food. Learn a foreign language. Quit corporate America. It would be hard to lead well if your own life isn’t filled with trying new things and getting uncomfortable. And to that, when I put myself out there this weekend at The Loop, here’s what it taught me about leadership:
- Be prepared. And if you aren’t, be prepared to wing it and give 110%. Chances are you will learn and grow either way.
- Play as a team. No further explanation needed.
- Take a back seat and let others lead (be humble, remove ego…say it with me…be humble, remove ego…one more time, be humble, remove ego). Rick and I did this 2-3 times and gave the kids the opportunity to play a leadership role and wow, it’s amazing what those kids (and, ahem, adults) can do when you encourage, empower and allow them the chance to succeed and fail.
- Play to people’s strengths. Pay attention and invest in people and learn what their natural gifts are. Their satisfaction and contribution will be at 100% or greater. It’s a win win.
- As a marketer, it opened my eyes to the fact that branding is critical and kids are watching you. Yikes!
- Be willing to take feedback. One of the little girls, who clearly is a natural-born leader, gave us direction 2-3 times and we trusted her, listened to her and it was a success. The kids were engaged, they were learning about the bible and God and so were we!
- Dance and sing. Didn’t think I would ever say this but maybe we would all take ourselves a little less serious and have a little more fun if we shook our money-makers a bit more at work.
- Ask for what you want. Best case scenario, you get what you want. Worst case, you don’t. Big deal. In this case, Rick asked for a promotion in our volunteer roles and boy, did we get it!
- When someone farts on you, move on and don’t take it personally.