A Leading Perspective

Pragmatic insights for the leader in you



My son, Andrew, is five years old and up until eight days ago, he didn’t know how to swim.  For Alaskans, this is problematic.  We are never far from a lake, a river, a stream or the ocean and having a child who doesn’t know how to swim is dangerous.


For some reason, my lil’ man loved the idea of water but didn’t like to get in.

Things changed last week.  I took the kids to Alyeska Resort for a few days and not only did my lil’ guy learn to ski but he jumped in the pool and learned to swim!



We all know what it is; however, few of us have enough of it.


I tried for years to get Andrew in the pool, in the ocean, in a lake, etc.  I tried to encourage him, I showed him how fun it was, I even tried to bribe him!  I also forced the issue – and while I didn’t throw him in the water like my dad did to me many moons ago, I did pull him in and carry him around with me.  Alas, it only resulted in screaming and further delay.



This past week, I tried something different.


I dug deep into what I know about leadership and came up with the following:



Trust: I ensured him he would not get hurt.


Patience: I allowed him to take his time.


Recognition: I celebrated every success.




In order for my assurances to mean something, Andrew had to trust me.

Thankfully, I’ve been a decent parent and haven’t done much to cause him to doubt me.  Hence, he believed me when I told him he would not be hurt.


I wonder, however, about my staff, contractors and volunteers.  Have I done things that would cause them to doubt me and has that stifled the courage they demonstrate at work?  Do they fail to take risks, leave their comfort zone, etc. because of something I have done or failed to do?


Being patient is difficult for me.

I’m a “get it done now” kinda gal.  But this wasn’t about me; it was about a little boy who was scared.  So I stopped, I waited, I watched – in a nutshell, I let my own needs go.


I believe my impatience for things prevents me from being an outstanding leader.  I can list numerous times when I have become frustrated with the teens at my froyo shop and done things myself because it was faster.  I can name numerous failings as an HR Director when I rushed my staff, my managers, my customers because I didn’t have time for them to come around, make decisions, or develop a plan on their own.  Watching my little guy in the water highlighted that impatience is a selfish trait; it doesn’t belong in parenting and it doesn’t belong in leadership.


Celebrating small successes is important.

Andrew got into to the pool one step at a time…literally!  He inched along each of the five steps until he was up to his chin.  I celebrated every drop of water that crossed his toes (yes, I was one of those parents).  I clapped, I splashed, I whistled, I sang (indeed, I made up a song as I had plenty of time to get creative).  It took forever and I felt like an idiot but again, it wasn’t about me.


I have been pretty good at celebrating big things in the workplace but Andrew got me thinking about the little things.  Since he is just 5 years old, long-term objectives are lost on him.  This is not unlike many of the people with whom I work.  I think celebrating smaller steps will keep them encouraged, motivated and engaged more than waiting until the end.


Perhaps my lil’ man was curious, perhaps he was jealous of the others, perhaps he wanted to get the quarters I was throwing for the other kids.  All of these are great motivators and I encourage my clients, my students and my mentees to draw upon them when encouraging others.


However, I like to think that Andrew simply didn’t have courage until I did my job.

I earned, kept and drew upon his trust when
I promised him he would be ok.


I put aside my own needs and allowed him
to take his time and learn on his own.


Furthermore, I celebrated any move forward,
even if it was silly.


It took an hour…but since that day, Andrew has been to our neighborhood pool four times.  He has jumped off the sides, he has floated and kicked around and he has found about $4 in quarters.


What do you need to do to get your staff to jump in?



Heather Kinzie • March 27, 2012

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  1. AJ Borowsky March 27, 2012 - 12:08 pm Reply

    Nice post Heather! I was also in the camp of being taught to swim when my father threw me in but like you point out in the post, I had complete trust in him. I knew that he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. Trust is a very powerful thing. First and foremost I want my team to trust me. And yes I should be willing to put aside my own needs for the benefit of the team and finally any move forward is progress no matter how small and that is worth celebrating.

    One last thing. You seriously swim outside in Alaska? Seriously?

    • Heather Kinzie March 28, 2012 - 7:29 am Reply

      AJ, thanks for your kind words (and the RT). I’m amazed at how simple this all was but yet my own selfishness and perspectives about what was important got in the way. Lessons learned from a beautiful boy…will hopefully make me a better parent and leader.

    • Heather Kinzie March 28, 2012 - 7:31 am Reply

      And of course we swim outside in Alaska. We have more water in and around my little neck of the woods than some people have in their entire state! 🙂 And our summers are gorgeous! 22 hours of sunlight may be bad for the dark circles under your eyes but nonetheless, it’s good for getting out and enjoying our great state!

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