Sunday, 31 August 2008

Guide the Passion

During the last Christmas holidays our family choose to tour the South Island. So we packed up the family, including the dog, and set off from Auckland for the South Island. It started with a trip to Granny’s, in Tapanui for Christmas and ended at Grandma’s in Nelson for a classic Kiwi summer holiday. It was an amazing trip with one of the highlights being the West Coast and Franz Josef in particular.

We stayed with the Tinirau’s who operate a small bed and breakfast just out of Franz. Their dedication to us and ensuring we enjoyed our stay was amazing. This story however is not about their customer service but rather a lesson in leadership I received from Ryan, my 5 year old son.

We decided to spend the day walking into the glacier terminal. Haka Tinirau hosted and guided us on our walk. The trip begins with a short bush walk. As is often the case with family outings everything started out extremely well. The children were keen and striding out in front. As we walked along there were frequent stops as we were introduced to the native flora and fauna along the track. It looked like the start of a great day. It wasn’t long before we broke out of the bush and the river bed opened up before us.

We stopped and took in the view. The river bed was huge and strewn with massive boulders that the glacier and floods had pulled out of the mountain. The river ran along the right hand edge of the valley. It was swift and a dirty milky colour full of glacial dirt and rock. The track we had to follow was clearly set out on the very right hand fringe and off we set. Well most of us did. Ryan saw the large rocks and immediately began to climb up on them, and jump off (as a five year old boy does). “Daddy” he called “can you help me down?”. He was up on top of a large boulder, about 5 feet up. I grabbed his hands and swung him down. He was rapped!!!! Off he went to the next rock and up he climbed. “Daddy, swing me down”. I did. He burst out laughing, an exuberant, incredibly loud “ha ha” and away he ran to start the cycle all over again.

His passion was infectious so off we went. The only problem, he was heading left. The track and the rest of the family were heading right. We were already well behind and in no way going in the right direction. “Ryan” I called, “we need to catch up with Mum.”

“One more time Daddy”. It was a statement not question.

“OK but then we need to catch up to the others”. Away he went and found another great rock. It wasn’t hard, there were plenty to choose from!!! Up he went and down he swung. This is life and he could do this all day, which is exactly what bothered me. The others were getting further ahead. Come on Ryan lets go and catch up with the others. He happily grabbed my hand and off we went. Maybe 10 yards later he dropped my hand and was off in the wrong direction clambering up a rock!! This one was not so big so off he jumped landing beautifully and at full speed away to the next rock.

“Ryan, you’re going the wrong way mate. Mum and the others are over there. Come on”. He looked at me and I could see the struggle on his face. The rocks, so much fun or do what Dad has asked?

I gave him a look “come on”. He sighed bowed his head and came over. I offered him my hand and off we went trying to catch up.

We had gone maybe 100 metres. He was getting slower and slower. Suddenly he throws himself in front of my legs arms extended “I’m tired, carry me”.

I looked at him. He was listless and pathetic. All that went through my head was it’s 5kms and there is no way I am carrying this child!!! “No I’m not carrying you. You can walk”

“But Daddy I’m tired, carry me”.

I physically move him out the way grabbed his hand “come on let’s go”. So much energy one second complete exhaustion the next. I shock my head in disbelief. Kids!! Off we trod. Every few steps it was the same cycle.

“Daddy carry me”.

“No you can walk.”

Then suddenly he was off at full speed up onto a rock and ready for me to swing him off. I gave him an exasperated look but grabbed his hands and swung him off. Off he charged in the wrong direction to the next rock. I called after him “Ryan you’re going the wrong way. We need to go this way. Come on.” His head dropped. Suddenly he was tired again. I could feel myself getting frustrated (frustration is my negative emotion of choice!!). I opened my mouth ready to growl when it hit me.

“Ryan” I said. “Can you see where Mum and the girls are?”


“Well we need to go that way and catch them up. How many rocks can you climb on between here and Mummy?”

He paused and then ran full tilt towards his mother. Found a rock and climbed up! “One!” he yelled

“Awesome”. I grabbed him and swung him down. “Where’s Mummy now? Can you find another rock on the way to Mummy?”

Off he went at full throttle. Found a rock and up he went. This one was small so off he jumped and away he went, in the wrong direction!! “Ryan, towards Mummy remember!!”

He stopped momentarily and then off he set going in the right direction. Big rocks, little rocks, boulders. He was having a blast. Going in the right direction and catching up fast. As I walked along with him, swinging him off sometimes and others not I was also having a great time. Not just because I wasn’t carrying him, but his joy and energy were infectious.

Soon enough we caught up with the rest of the family. Ryan continued to climb up rocks and jump off. It wasn’t long until Sarah, his older sister, noticed and joined in. The laughter, enthusiasm and joy captured everyone. Soon our oldest two children Emily and Katie noticed. They joined in sometimes climbing rocks, sometimes swinging their younger siblings off.

This carried on all the way to the glacier terminal and all the way back. At the terminal we all had a great time with the ice and posing for pictures!!

Later I reflected on what a great day we had and I wondered why? Why was this day so great? My mind went to that moment where I choose to stop trying to control Ryan and make him do things my way and instead found a way to use his enthusiasm and passion to get us along the path we needed to go. Not only did this mean that Ryan had a great time but so did everybody else as we all got caught in his energy. I need to remember this and use it again and again with Ryan. What learning.

As I let the triumph sink I heard myself thinking, “You know, you do this at work as well.”


“Kill people’s passion by trying to make them do things your way!”

It was true I did. This wasn’t about parenting this was about me and my leadership style. Trying to be in control had infected all parts of my life not just my relationship with Ryan.

I began to see many instances where I had been killing my team’s passion by trying to make them do things my way. I resolved there and then to begin to look for ways to guide people’s passions at work rather than crushing them. What a difference it would make.

I wouldn’t need to explain everything and passionate people don’t need to be managed they just go. They do need to be guided so they remain on track but they don’t need to be managed. My job then is not to manage them and their tasks but to guide them on how to use their passions more effectively for themselves, the team and the company as a whole.

“Ummm” I muttered, “I think I now understand one of the differences between leadership and management.”

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