Leadership Lessons From a Fifth Grader

I am just back from HREvolution and heading into the office with a few lingering thoughts about leadership and being the real deal. As I process them, I'd like to share with you a post from last year about leadership from a fifth grader. Why can't adults just seem to get this right?

Leadership. Sometimes it's so quiet that if you didn't know what you were looking for, you'd miss it.

My daughter started middle school and has had so many opportunities in just the first 4 weeks. One of those was election for student council. So, with 9 students in her homeroom interested in the coveted leadership spot, each set out to create a poster and prepare a speech to solicit votes from their peers. Hers went like this:


"Hi, I'm running for Student Council. I am reliable and responsible and would like to represent you. I am also able to to do something kind of unusual. I can do this <insert freaky finger trick here.> I'm sorry, I just had to make sure you were awake. Like I said, I would like to represent you on the student council. I appreciate your vote and respect your decision. I also brought in some treats for your enjoyment."

<parent note: this line was overridden by the teacher and the Fudge Stripes were not mentioned or shared until after the vote!>

When my husband and I saw her later that day - she was psyched. She LOVED giving the speech and friends told her she was funny, she did not talk too fast and she seemed so comfortable. Giggling and unable to contain her excitement, she wanted to do it again - even though she did not get elected. 

"We're so proud of you for going for it" we said, "look at the wonderful experience you had." Playing with the kid we said, "At least you know you got one vote - your own."

"No," she said. "I had 2 votes and I did not vote for myself."

What?! Turns out she took her 2 votes and used 1 vote for friend A because she was nervous and did a great job on her speech and the other vote for friend B because she thought she'd be a great representative.

Wow, I thought, as I settled back and took a close look at the young girl sitting beside me. Mistaking my pride for doubt, she asked if that was the right thing to do.



The story doesn't end there.

A few days later she came home sad. It seems a friend told her she lost the election because she didn't vote for herself. <darn kids> I could see the struggle between for self and for others multiplied by middle school drama.

We talked about not knowing how the votes were distributed, remembering how psyched she was after the presentation and how good it felt to support her 2 friends. We talked about winning vs. being a good person and about how we were so very proud of her.


Leaders bring out the best in others and, when it's all said and done, that's who people follow. 

I know leadership is not about pomp and circumstance yet I have to wonder, is there still a place for quiet leadership in the loud world we live in today?

Confidence, The School Bus and Taking the First Step

We went through the drill.

Retracing our footsteps from both Wednesday's Open House and our quiet Thursday night visit to the empty middle school, we talked through bus drop off, locker location, homeroom and the 3 classroom periods. The lunch routine will vary from elementary school but she had the basics down: hop in a food line, make healthy choices and remember your lunch code. Find your lunch buddy, grab a seat and sit down to eat.

Homeroom #801, Language Arts #818, Math #814, Art #675.

Two elementary schools converging onto 1 middle school and 350+ 5th graders walking alongside those from 6th through 8th. One common area with 4 classroom wings, separate but together, curious but not really all that interested in anything but finding friends from last year and <maybe> getting to homeroom on time. 

What should I do if the teacher is not by the bus? Not by the lockers? Nowhere in site? Head for the homeroom kid, that's where she'll wind up. But, but, but . . . no worries, you'll be wonderful. A little nervousness is natural but there's nothing to fear.

I know you are ready for this. You are much better equipped for this than I was. Your goals are to make a new friend. My goal when I was your age was to not make eye contact with any one. Yes, really. What? Are you laughing at me? Does it make you feel better? Good. That's what I am going for.

Now, put on your confidence clothes, grab your back pack and let's hit the road. The first step you take onto the school bus this morning will be the biggest step you'll take today. You've got this one kid. It's all down hill from here.