Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
A lot is made in life of leadership. You’ll hear people talk about being leaders in various ways. Here are the three that come to mind immediately:
- Leading by example
- leading by influence
- positional leadership
As I grow as your dad it occurs to me more and more that I have responsibilities in all three categories at our house. As the man of the house, in a traditional southern “mom and dad are still married” home, I have positional leadership. That’s the easy one. I don’t really have to do anything to lead by position.Your mom wants and expects me to make the big decisions.
When I was a head wrestling coach I was the leader. Just because. The Head Coach is the man. Period.
I lead by influence at home because you kids mostly do what I say. You believe that what I say is right and in your best interest. I know everything. I’m able to influence your decision making with my words and how I react to situations in our home. The tone of my voice influences you. My posture influences you. The attitude I have about work, play, and rest influence you. That stuffs pretty easy to control.
Going back again to my days as a wrestling coach, I was able to influence the boys with my tone of voice at practice or before a big match. For better or worse. One time I took my kids too far. I had them so worked up emotionally before a big match that I noticed half of them were crying – before the match, during the pep talk. That was the power of influence I had over those kids. They saw and heard my emotion about the moment and it was too much for them. That’s influence though. It can be powerful.
Leading by example is the most important though – and is the style of leadership that I pray I’m getting right at home. Leading by example was easy for me as a coach. I was still young back then. I was the head coach, but I wrestled most of the live situations, ran all of the sprints, did all of the conditioning, pushed myself harder than any of the kids could. I constantly reminded them that if an “old guy” like me could do it they could too. I didn’t swear in front of the kids. I said please and thank you. They did what I did. I was doing triathlons back then too. So the kids shaved their legs. Not sure what their parents thought of that.
At home I hope I’m doing the same. For me the key is living my life. Doing what’s right and what I’m called and equipped to do instead of hiding my passions.
Lately I’ve noticed you taking more of an interest in how I do things, Izzy. Last summer you did your first triathlon. Your interest in it was half hearted – a general sort of curiosity, but you did great. I was so proud of you when you came out of the water first – just like your daddy.
This summer you’ve been asking me a lot about triathlon. “What if someone asks you if you’re a triathlete, daddy?” you said.
“I am a triathlete,” was my response.
“Yeah, me too,” you said.
You’ve been asking a lot about when your first race is this year and how soon we can start practicing your riding and running. I’ve delayed that, because you’ve been so busy with swim team and gymnastics. I want nothing more in these years for you than the freedom to be a kid. I get frustrated with parents who are driving their agenda on their kids at an early age.
But a couple of nights ago I finally gave in. You asked if we could go on a “training ride.” So off we went – up our street to your school parking lot where we rode in circles around the school. All in all it was about a 25 minute ride. Your handle bar streamers flowing in the breeze as you sped along. You watched me out of the corner of your eye, trying to see how I ride my bike.
The next morning when I came home from my long ride you were waiting for me.
“Can we go for a run, daddy?”
“Sure, baby. How far you want to run?” I said.
“I don’t know. How far do you run?”
“Well, it depends on what I’m training for, I guess. Sometimes not far at all and sometimes a really long way.”
“Like 13 to 15 miles sometimes. Sometimes just 3 miles,” I said.
“Wow. That’s far. Have you ever run 26 miles?”
“I have. Once. Before you were born.”
“How about we go down to the walking trail and you can run from one end to the other?” I said.
“How far is that?”
“About a mile.”
As we walked out you spoke up, Max.
“Can I come?” you said.
“Maybe when you’re bigger, ” I said.
“No fair!”, you said as I pulled the door shut behind me.
And so off we went, Izzy. You in your visor and shades and me pedaling along side you on my bike in gym shorts with no shirt and flip flops. I noticed people looking at us strangely as we made our way down the path. I could feel it in their expressions.
“You’re making this little girl run?” their eyes seemed to say. “What a bad father you must be.”
You pushed, Izzy, stopping to walk a few times, but always back to running. You did great. I was so proud. What those people who don’t understand don’t know is that I’m not influencing you to follow my footsteps by pushing you. I’m leading by example. You want to ride the waves that I ride. You want to test the limits of the human spirit. Because you see me doing it. I’m glad to be teaching you a healthy way to live and how to pursue dreams.
We got home and I fixed us both a big bike bottle of Gatorade – that we shared with Max and Kate.
Leadership is big responsibility for me. Somedays, like yesterday, I think I’m getting it right.