Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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Curiosity question: Since Sawyer is 17, I know that she is too old to be a camper at Heart O' the Hills this summer, but is she planning to be a Heart-Lite?


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Where have the years gone?! It seems like only yesterday that we had to convince them to let her attend when she was "almost six" and now she's old enough to be an assistant counselor.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



True, but that does not answer my question.


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She submitted the application and a phone interview has been scheduled. But what prompted your question?


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I received an email from them describing their new leadership team, including some of this summer's counselors, and I thought about the great resume value for those individuals.


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That's not why Sawyer's doing it. She just loves camp – the activities and the friends she's made, especially the "little ones" that she got to be "big sister" to. From the very beginning, she's always talked about hoping to be a counselor one day.


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I have always been impressed by her ability – and passion – to teach and to mentor, whether at camp, at volleyball, or with the Special Olympics team. And, even though I only attend a few volleyball games each year, her leadership skills are very obvious. No wonder she has been named team captain the last two years.


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Funny you say that, as other parents have commented to me about that, too. I know that as her mom I'm biased, but I'm so proud of her this year. Not only is she "playing up" and on the team for 18-year-olds and developing her technical skills, but she's really excelling at strategic thinking and team-building.


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From what you have told me, she is extremely dependable and her teammates trust and rely on her. That is critical. As are the ability to communicate and resolve conflict.


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She seems to have all those traits, although I can't take any credit for them. She must have been born that way. Not to mention, she didn't inherit her athletic skills from me, either.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



I do not have the time for a nature versus nurture conversation, but hard work and focused efforts can go a long way.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



Maybe in terms of athletics, but I think being a leader is something you're naturally born to be or not.


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I disagree. I think it is easier to learn to be a good leader than to be a good athlete.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io


Then explain why I was more of a natural at golf than you, but you ended up a better golfer.


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Because I needed it to advance my career. So, I took lessons and worked at it. Plus, I am much more competitive than you.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io


Now there's an understatement. But you're definitely a natural leader.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io



I have to disagree again. After business school, I did well in positions where I worked independently. I could analyze any situation, spit out a bunch of ideas and suggestions, and get them implemented. But, then I wanted to move to the next assignment. Unfortunately, rather than using me as in-house consultant, I was promoted into management.


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Wasn't that a good thing?


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Except that I was totally unprepared.


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So, what did you do?


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I looked around the company and found senior management that I admired and respected. Then, I emulated their style and approach.


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Are you saying that you pretended to be someone you weren't?


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Have you never heard the adage, "Fake it until you make it?" There is actually science supporting the concept, but the interesting part is that, along the way, I learned the difference between management and leadership.


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There's a difference?


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Managing is telling people what to do, how to do it, and then expecting them to do it. Leading is showing by example. Would you rather follow someone or "obey" them? I witnessed that the true leaders were open to ideas, they were patient and empathetic, and they provided timely communication, effective feedback, and positive reinforcement. All powerful traits that can be learned.


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Well, I have to tell you, based on your description, most of the volleyball coaches I've seen over the years have been managers, not leaders.


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I would be interested to know if that is a function of the level of the team. Is there a difference in coaching style when you get to the best nationally ranked club teams? What about at the collegiate level?


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Good questions. I'd guess having better players helps, too.


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Yes, but even with "better" employees, just demanding them to "do better" will not get the same result as inspiring them to do so. Funny thing is that I was just trying to do my job better, but by helping them do their jobs better, we all benefited.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io



Well, it sounds like Sawyer's leadership skills will one day be invaluable in the workplace. But I'd love to know where she learned them.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


Probably from you.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io


Seriously? I find it very hard to believe that you think of me as a leader.


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Do you demand things of the girls? Or, do you ask and then take the time to explain why? Do you follow through on the expectations and rules you have set? Do you take responsibility for your actions and expect them to do the same? Do you provide them with positive feedback or only just find fault? Even when you think you are right, are you willing to listen not only to their perspective, but also their ideas and suggestions? Are you willing to admit when you are wrong? Shall I continue?


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No! You made your point. I guess I just see these as good mom skills, not leadership traits.


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But, it is not an either-or situation. Those same traits can be used to be successful at home, at work, even as a volunteer. Think about the parents who are part of the PTA or who are little league coaches. Leadership skills are transferable. And, definitely can be learned, and taught.


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Wow, I never realized there are so many similarities between leadership and parenting. But I can see where they're each both challenging, yet highly rewarding.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


Agree, but I would venture to guess that parenting is much more difficult.


Red's Head Red assets.rebelmouse.io


Now, that I was never expecting.


Black's Head Black assets.rebelmouse.io


Whatever.

Want to read other columns? Here's a list.

Sawyer's Mom

Red's younger daughter, Sawyer, is the athlete in the family and besides playing competitive volleyball, loves to workout. So, you can imagine how thrilled she was when her local Lifetime Fitness gym re-opened, of course, with COVID protocols. And it seems that with each passing day, her workouts are becoming longer and longer. Knowing that her aunt, Black, has religiously worked out for years, she had a question for her.

Sawyer was using an old volleyball backpack for the gym that she was also using for school (she loved all the pockets and the versatility it offered) but was tired of constantly having to switch out all the contents. She was curious if Black had an old gym bag she wasn't using since she doesn't like to spend money unnecessarily. Not to mention, she knew her aunt's hand-me-downs would be better than anything she'd buy.

Black said she'd look and get back to her, and called back with a rundown of the options. Sawyer planned to go look at them, so you can imagine her surprise the next morning when she found this email waiting for her,

I was thinking about it … and now how much the "perfect" gym bag can help keep you motivated (and organized) … so … just find your "perfect" bag, and I'll pay for it.

Sawyer knew exactly what she wanted and to say she's thrilled with her new Adidas backpack is an understatement. Red let Black know exactly that, explaining how Sawyer talks not only about how much she loves it, but how she'll use it at college (she'll be a freshman next year) and wouldn't be surprised if beyond then. Although Red laughed as she relayed the details, saying that she doubted it would last that many years but how great it is that she so loves – and appreciates – the gift. Black saw it, as always, in a different way.

It is the small things.

A single sentence. A short sentence. But one, as Red has been thinking about ever since, that speaks a huge truth.

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Dear Data Geek, where is my sister, and what have you done to her?

For as long as I can remember, including her entire adult life, my sister has always seemed allergic to numbers. She was a straight-A student, so did well in math, but only because she worked at it. However, she was never comfortable with numbers or mathematical concepts. I, on the other hand, thought math was fun. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy as growing up our mother would joke that the reason I excelled in math was because I substituted dollars for apples and oranges when doing word problems.

Fast forward to when my sister was 40+ years old and her husband was fired. She was panicked because she did not know the first thing about personal finance and was certain it would take an M.B.A. (she has a theater arts degree) to understand it. I sarcastically asked her if she could add and subtract, and when she acknowledged she could, I let her know she was more than qualified. However, it was my "light bulb moment" because the resulting conversation made me realize it was the financial terminology that was creating the problem, along with the fact she was creating roadblocks in her mind that did not need to exist.

Fast forward … Today, my sister's youngest daughter plays volleyball and loves the statistics – whether hers, her teammates, or the team and where they stand in terms of the competition. Is she a math wizard? Probably no more so than her mother, but her attitude toward numbers and statistics is very different. She loves them because they intrigue her and have a purpose. So much so that, much to her mother's amazement, she voluntarily took a statistics course. Which is something I would have done (actually, I did take mathematical statistics as an elective in college).

So, imagine my surprise when my sister started analyzing the statistics provided by MailChimp on last week's email newsletter – letting me know open rates and click rates, and even comparing them to previous email campaigns. We only started using MailChimp a few months ago (shortly after we launched our new website), creating newsletters to provide our followers with food-for-thought (we have nothing to sell – as we have not even put our bestselling book on the site … yet).

I know that if I had asked my sister to "analyze data" she would have freaked out (that is her default setting), but because the numbers had a purpose and were clearly presented, her curiosity prompted her to review them. Which, besides giving information on our email campaign, provided proof that …

When something is relevant, we seem to ignore the mental roadblocks that we might otherwise have built.
CBS

Black has said, on more than one occasion, that having morning TV shows playing in the background while I work reduces my level of concentration. Although that may, or may not, be true (as a mom I just consider it yet another source of "white noise"), I still keep doing it. And I have to say that this week, I was so glad that I did, otherwise I'd never have realized that my sister, Black, and Dr. Fauci are both Vulcans.

Yes, I know that Vulcans aren't real (watching Star Trek with my dad is one of my fonder childhood memories, although I was never a "Trekkie"), but sometime in the last decade I was at the movies enjoying my popcorn while one of the recent Star Trek movies was playing … and I had a revelation. I realized that my sister, with her non-emotional and highly pragmatic way of looking at everything (and I mean everything – including relationships, if you can believe that) was Vulcan-like. Which explained so much, including why I always have to explain the "mere mortal" perspective to her. For her, emotions get in the way and prevent looking at things logically.

Fast forward to this week and the incredibly tragic news of the U.S. reaching 500,000 coronavirus deaths. Dr. Fauci was being interviewed by CBS This Morning, and I'll admit that I wasn't really paying any attention until I heard the doctor being asked,

Is there ever a moment when you have time to get emotional about this?

At that point, Dr. Fauci had my full and undivided attention. And I just had to laugh, and think of Black, when he replied, without hesitation,

No, I don't. And that's the point.

And then he proceeded to explain that it's not that he's a very cold person, but that you can't let emotions drive what you do. He emphasized the need to be empathic, but that you need to stay focused on the task at hand. By then, although the words were coming from Dr. Fauci, the sentiments might just as well have been from my sister.

And just as I've learned never to question my sister's unemotional, highly analytical approach to everything, I had to smile at the thought that now Black's not the only Vulcan that I "know". And respect.