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Leadership Lessons Learned in Childhood

Anybody who knows me knows that I can talk.  I often laugh that I am still making up for lost time.  You see, I had a speech impediment as a child that prevented me from speaking understandably for many years.  My parents still tell stories of my attempts to communicate with them in which I had to rely on animation and persistence to get a point across.  After several corrective oral surgeries, beginning when I was four, and many years of speech therapy, I have used that early childhood experience in my career as an executive leader.  The lessons learned …..

1. Listen – Because I couldn’t talk, people would assume that I couldn’t hear or understand.  It is truly amazing to know what adults will say when they don’t think someone is listening.  Many adults would try to diagnose my problem as though I wasn’t even standing there.

It is important to know what your staff will say when they don’t think you are listening.  Are they saying what you hope they will about you, their jobs, and their individual positions?  Do they have anything going on in their personal lives that you need to know?  Are you bringing business consultants in to discuss the symptoms instead of listening to your staff?

2. Don’t make assumptions without knowing the facts – Many of the people in my childhood world assumed I was mentally disabled.  Comments were made and pity was expressed to my parents.  Because my mother was a special education teacher, she was determined to get me to a professional that could find answers to my “problem.”  She wasn’t willing to be dissuaded by people that would rather make assumptions than know facts.  She wanted an explanation of why I could respond with pictures but not make sense verbally.  She wanted answers and wasn’t going to stop until she had them.

Using assumptions without facts can debilitate an organization.  Without complete diagnostics, such as an operations assessment or asking strategic and objective questions, executive leadership will react to market situations, employee complaints, leadership excuses, and inefficiencies based on their assumptions.  Much better to know what your people, processes, and technology need so as to be able to offer a foundation for success.

3. Need a plan – I learned that planning was essential to keeping me focused on my goal to speak and be understood by others.   I wanted to be in the kindergarten play like all the other kids in class.  I didn’t necessarily know what the word ‘plan’ meant, but I knew I wanted something bad enough to go through the multiple oral surgeries and appliances to get ‘it’.  I knew that all the hours of intense speech therapy with one stranger after another was supposed to help me be able to have conversations with my grandpa.  I had goals, therefore I needed a plan to make it come true.

Companies often don’t plan to communicate with others, so communication is frequently a problem.      What is your communication strategy?  Do you have a communication plan?  Or do you think it will happen on its own? A good leader is going to plan to communicate with his staff and clients.  He recognizes that without a communication plan, he is making a decision not to communicate at all.

4. Tenacity – When my parents decided to move to a small town when I was in 7th grade, I had to learn to find my own methodology for speech therapy.  Back then, small Texas towns didn’t offer speech therapy beyond elementary school.  I discovered our church had a speaker’s tournament that competed against other church youth speakers.  An adult who lead the program, Lynn, encouraged me to try, and after many, many hours of practicing and being judged, I was able to deliver a memorized speech for thousands of people at state competition three years in a row.  Through pure determination and with the help of a woman who believed I could learn to be articulate, I persevered.  Lynn taught me to highlight words in my presentation that would remind me to place my mouth in the appropriate way for the correct sound to come out.  I knew I had succeeded when people could not only understand me but couldn’t even detect my prior verbal disabilities.

As an executive leader and business strategy consultant, I know that when the going gets tough, I have the tenacity to lead my team through trying times.  Some of my former colleagues would probably say that I am hard headed.  It’s probably true.  I’m a risk taker because in the big scheme of life, this “trial” is a piece of cake.  The hard part was learning how to make others understand me in the first place!

Leadership is a responsibility.  It isn’t for the weak.  It isn’t for those that will give up because things get a little scary.  It is more important to listen to others than it is to talk.  It is imperative to know the facts so that you can create rather than react.  It is essential to have a communication plan so that others are truly following you rather than just trying to survive chaos.  Tenacity gets you to those places in the business world where no one else has the guts to go.  Would I want to go through those procedures and years of therapy again?  No way! I’m not crazy!  (Really, I’m not.)  But I do recognize the value of those lessons.  They prepared me for my passion for leadership.  What lessons have you learned through life experiences?

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