Two Leadership Lessons from a Three Year Old

sad - 1Our three year old granddaughter Grace does not take disappointment well. When her mother, father or, on rare occasions, her grandmother says “No” a devastated look comes across Grace’s face and she curls up into a fetal position. Usually there is no screaming or tantrums, just the inward tuck.

Her seven year old unconcerned brother explained it to me. “Oh that’s just Gracie. She needs some time alone.”

So circumstances allowing – which they almost always are at Grandma and Papa’s house – the family just goes on about our business.sad2 - 1


Grandma broke the code that fosters the transition.

When the time seems right she says, “Would you like a hug now?”

When Grace nods the affirmative she scrambles into open arms and sinks into the hug. This glimpse into the sacred is an amazing thing to witness much less receive. Freedom to feel; open arms that launch the next phase.

As I watch Grace go through the ritual I covet that same sense of freedom and acceptance for congregational leaders. Most often they are the ones expected to offer support, encouragement and understanding. I wonder where are the safe places where leaders are free to enter deeply into their disappointment when things do not go as they hoped, planned and worked. And who extends the arms to say “You are (still) cherished” without caving to a false sentimentality or a “whatever you want.”

Innovation will not happen without freedom and acceptance, especially the freedom to grieve the times things do not work and an accepting culture which values the person and encourages the launch of the next idea.

Wonder and risk fuel innovation and new life.[Tweet “Wonder and risk fuel innovation and new life.”]

The second lesson revealed itself on a walk through a forested park. The day was bright but when we took the path the towering trees put much of the way in shadow. A cool breeze dropped the temperature. Whenever we would round a corner or the forest cover would open up to allow the sun to shine through Grace would run ahead to stand in the patch of light and warmth, arms uplifted.

All around may be in shadow and uncertainty may lie around the next twist in the path but, for now, she bathed in the light and warmth. And laughed.

I wish I had learned this lesson long ago. As a leader I was always so aware of all that was yet undone that I did not spend long enough in the light and warmth of the small victories. I too easily brushed aside the comments of “Thanks for the good work” or “This sermon reframed my faith and changed my life.”

I am the poorer for rushing ahead to the next item on the list.

Leaders need to stand in the light and feel the warmth of grace and work well done.[Tweet “Leaders need to stand in the light and feel the warmth of grace and work well done.”]


  1. Great post, Keith. Thank you. For me, a key point is the importance of a community with an accepting culture which helps us to grieve the times things do not work, values us and encourages the launch of the next idea. This still seems to be tough for us in the church, where failure is rarely received with acceptance and valued for what it can teach us. I’m hoping we can keep working on developing that vital culture!

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