My 9 year old son just told me he is excited because he just completed his next piano lesson book. My wife, a gifted pianist, teaches all of our children piano. In our home, our children have no choice but to learn piano. There is no discussion about it. It is an automatic assumption that as each of our 4 children turn 5 or 6 years old, they begin taking lessons from their mother. Our youngest is about to turn 5, so 3 of our kids are already well on their way to being gifted musicians. As my son briefly discussed with me about the work that he and I both have to accomplish today, he said something that astounded me, and led me to discover a law of human interaction that has driven our parenting for the past 11 years: I will call the law “The Law of Throwing Them Open”.
My son turned to me and said, “Its so weird. When we are busy it seems like 30 minutes goes by so fast. But when we have nothing to do it seems like time goes by so slowly.” What he said next is what made the lightbulb turn on for me, “It’s like relativity.” He said it nonchalantly. I couldn’t believe my ears. Did my 9 year old son just correctly make a connection between life and a complex scientific idea that most 9 year olds would not even know about. I couldn’t remember who came up with the idea of relativity, so I asked him to clarify. He said, “It’s like Einstein and the law of relativity.” Wow. How does my 9 year old think so deeply. He turned and went back upstairs, leaving me pondering.
In the NFL, the best quarterbacks are ones who are able to complete a high percentage of their passes. If you ever watch the NFL, you will occasionally hear the broadcasters talk about how the great quarterbacks will throw their receivers open. It sounds strange at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. The idea of throwing a receiver open refers to when a quarterback will see that a receiver is being very well covered by a defender, and so the quarterback will throw the ball to a spot where he sees the defender could not get to but his receiver could. When done correctly, by throwing the receiver open, the quarterback is leading the receiver into being successful, instead of waiting for the receiver to be successful. We can learn much about leadership when we apply this concept.
Whether you are parenting, managing a team, or any kind of leading of others, you can either wait for those you are leading to demonstrate they are ready and mature enough for increased responsibility and recognition, or you can give them increased responsibility as a tool to help them to mature. Like the great quarterbacks, it is the difference between waiting for someone to mature on his own, and leading someone to mature by leading him to where he needs to go.
The more I pondered my 9 year old son’s unusually mature relation of real world experiences to the theory of relativity, the more I realized this has been a consistent law of leadership at work in my own life over the years- both how I successfully led others, and how others have led me.
You can also see this concept at work with great teachers. I have a degree in education and a lot of experience teaching people. I have consistently observed over the years that the best teachers are the ones who keep their students engaged during a lesson or lecture by moving at a fast pace. When I have struggled to keep my students engaged and interested, it is often when I am moving too slowly through the content, and boring them to death. That is when behavior problems and students’ immaturity is most likely to rise to the surface. However, when I move at a fast pace, setting high expectations for their development and growth while still making the content understandable, that is when my students are interested and engaged, and when they mature in their learning.
I can see how this law of leadership has worked itself out in my parenting as well. We expect a lot out of our children. Don’t get me wrong, we also want them to have a full and fun child’s life. But we also don’t want them to grow up with standards that reflect the lowest common denominator of maturity and development. So we expect and demand obedience from a very young age. It has been our goal that by the age of 5 or 6, our children have mastered the idea that they have been born into a world of order and authority, and they are expected to submit to that good order and authority in their lives. Around the age of 7, we begin giving our kids a household job to do, careful to use the word job and not chore. Chore has a negative connotation. We want to teach them from an early age that a job is a good thing that reaps benefits when done faithfully. We are certainly imperfect in our execution of this law. But as a whole, I have seen our kids mature as we strive to lead them into more mature roles and responsibilities.
When I have excelled in life in different roles and capacities as a leader, it is when someone above me in leadership has decided to not wait for me to demonstrate that I am a strong leader already, mature in every way necessary to lead. Instead it is when they have seen some leadership or maturity qualities necessary for the job at hand, while not yet developed fully, and then they decided to hand over increased responsibility to me and assist me in growing and maturing into the role or responsibility they have given me. Like the great quarterbacks who don’t wait for an open receiver, but lead their receivers into success, great leaders will set high expectations for those whom they lead, causing them to mature and develop, instead of holding them back.
My son was able to make a real world connection with Einstein’s law of relativity because we expect much out of him as a learner. When he slows down in his schoolwork, we push him more. We work hard at teaching him that he can do far more than he thinks he can do. In a sense every day we are striving to throw our kids open, instead of waiting for them mature on their own.