A Test of Leadership Skills

I was leading a team of 6. They were high energy and ready to get after it. With hammers and power tools within reach, everyone wanted to get to work. They talked non-stop. There were questions about everything within eyesight and earshot. When I could give instructions, one would listen, one would do the complete opposite, and the remaining 4 would follow the person doing the wrong thing. Nothing was getting done. It was complete craziness!!

I knew this was going to be a test of my leadership skills. It was also going to be a HUGE test of patience. You see, this crew of eager team members were kids between the ages of 9-13. We were building a set for an upcoming play. Our goal was simple; build the platform and walls for rehearsals that will be going on the next three weeks. No painting or finishing touches needed until one week before opening night. The kids just needed an elevated platform, stairs to get up to the platform, and three walls so they don’t fall off. Simple. But, not simple as you’ll read in the quotes I noted (yes, I did say these things to my happy little team members!).

There will be situations that test our leadership skills more than others. Sometimes it’s a large project we’re leading that runs into issues. Other times it’s building a set for a play with a bunch of kids. These tests can come at any time, so always be ready to engage your leadership superpowers. Here are a few tips to help.

“Can you ask your parents if you’re up to date on your tetanus shot?”

Be a Role Model, Because Everyone Is Watching You. As a leader, your team members look to you. Your attitude sets the tone for everyone else. If you’re overly excitable or anxious or quick to anger, your team will follow. If you’re calm, happy, empathetic, complimentary, your team will follow that too. Your team is watching you, so be a good role model! If you ever wonder how best to be a role model, just imagine a bunch of kids watching you and will mimic the way you act (because they will).

“Please don’t throw hammers at the plywood. They won’t stick. They’re not axes, and thank goodness we don’t have those!”

Stay Agile When Prioritizing, Keeping the End Goal in Mind. Leaders are clear about what priorities should be understanding there are times when priorities may shift. However, even though priorities can shift, keep the end goal in mind. Think of the projects or personal goals you try to achieve. Even though we make plans and follow them to the best of our abilities, things happen. When they do, we need to remain agile and pivot, understanding we have an end goal we’re trying to achieve. In our stage setup, we built the platform, attached the stairs, then went to raise the bigger wall which fell apart (see resiliency). So, instead we put the smaller wall up. A quick pivot and we moved on!

“I’m sorry I snapped at your son, but throwing screws in the air and swinging at them with a 2×4 like a baseball bat is a really, really bad idea.”

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Good leaders communicate. But when times get tougher, communication becomes even more important. Give information to your team real-time vs. waiting for a regularly scheduled meeting (especially if those meetings are weekly or bi-weekly). Ask for feedback or if there are any issues or concerns so as to identify and mitigate risks as soon as possible. Be transparent and ask for transparency in return. Communication is a big deal! With my little team members, I gave continuous feedback and helped them understand how what they were doing helped them have more effective rehearsals, resulting in a better performance.

“Your mom said you can’t climb ladders” I said to one active little girl. “But, but my dad let’s me!” she said in response. “Well, I know your parents and even though your dad is easy-going, I’m scared of your mom. Get down please.”

Be an Active Listener. Listening doesn’t get the credit it deserves. You’ve probably heard the saying “don’t listen to respond, listen to understand.” Listening is a powerful tool and goes a long way with the people who are taking the time to talk with you. Ask questions to get more information about challenges or concerns. This is very helpful when your project has issues. Someone may have a potential solution they want to run past you first before going to the greater team. Listen intently!

“Please don’t put the drill in your hair and turn it on. It will pull your hair out by the roots.”

Emphasize Resiliency. The “big wall” was 8 feet tall and 12 feet long. I marked up the 2×4 boards where screws needed to connect everything. I told the kids to use the 4 inch screws. Unfortunately, they grabbed the 2 inch box of screws instead. When we went to stand the wall up, it fell apart. At some point, a project you’re working on will experience a setback, maybe even fall apart. Emphasizing resiliency helps the team bounce back and recover. It’s not an easy skill to obtain, so don’t expect everyone to bounce back the same way.


Find Ways to Celebrate. Even though this 12 year old put a screw through plywood and missed the 2×4 on the other side, I still had everyone clap for them. This was the first time they’d ever used this tool and though nervous, was successful. Even in difficult times, leaders find opportunities to celebrate. They celebrate as a team, even if the accomplishment was done by an individual.

There will be times when our leadership capabilities are tested. Whether it’s at work with our professional teams, or outside of work with other groups, leadership is essential to success. What other leadership qualities would you add when you’re tested?

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