My youngest son is four years old and just started Kindergarten. He’s joyful, loving and extremely energetic!

Whenever we walk in the local park or on the sidewalk in town, he lets go of my hand and skips ahead or stops to examine some rocks. I empower him to follow his own interests, to spend some time seeking out his own learning, asking me questions about the things that interest him. I love seeing the world through his eyes – its all fresh and new and ever so exciting!! His insights or questions often surprise me, leading me to think “wow, I’d never thought of it that way!”

He’s curious and wants to explore everything, all the time, everywhere! He is the epitome of the “continuous learner” that we want everyone to be! And all I have to do is get out of the way and let him lead the way!

However, when we have to cross the street or when we walk into a parking lot, I take his hand. He hates it! Sometimes he screams, he tries to pull his hand away from me and he loudly protests that the hand holding is even a requirements. “I can do it, Mommy!! Let goooooo!”

It’s important for me to recognize that there are times when he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know! As we walk through the parking lot, I stop and remind him to listen – does he hear any car engines running nearby? Does he see anything? Do any cars have someone sitting in them? I point out the white backup lights on a car about to start moving. I talk about why those lights are there and what they mean (that the car is running and in reverse). I ask him what he thinks might happen if we keep walking? When we cross the street, we look at cars that are approaching and we just stand and wait sometimes, to see how quickly cars move or how to gauge when it’s safe or when it isn’t? I talk about turn signals and what they mean – and that even when a car has their blinker on, it’s still smart to see if they’re actually turning or if they might change their mind at the last minute?

He still likes to think that he’s got it all figured out and he doesn’t need me to teach him anything. I support his independence and self confidence. And I still do my job of keeping him safe and teaching him the things that he doesn’t understand yet. I don’t need him to agree with me, in these cases. I don’t need him to like it.

There is a balance I strive for in raising my children. I strive to make sure that they are loved, that they feel safe to take risks and fail and get up and try again. I encourage them to recognize their strengths, follow their curiosity and pursue their passions. And yet, I have perspective, experience and some resulting wisdom that I apply to decide when the risks are too great. Sometimes, I can recognize opportunities to share some of my hard-won wisdom to help them think of things they hadn’t considered. And when they’re trying to do something and don’t know why it’s not working, I offer to help. After all, it’s ridiculous for everyone to reinvent the wheel – why wouldn’t we want our kids to know how to learn from each other (and from mentors/leaders)?

I choose to lead AND to empower. This is what I think of as the “push” and “pull” of learning. And the trick is to know when to step back and let someone learn their own way vs. when to step in and provide direction or guidance? It’s a very fluid way of being. It takes a willingness to allow others (even children) to do the same – to sometimes learn from us and other times to teach us.

I’m learning that leading an organization or team is no different (in this way) than parenting my children. There are some times when I seek input from everyone, strive to make sure that all have a voice and empower those around me to accomplish our goals their own way. It’s a powerful culture to develop – one where the hierarchy disappears and the lines of leader vs. team disappear.

We are all leaders when we feel ownership and pride in what we’re doing! That kind of shared ownership and collaboration results in better solutions – I have no doubt! And empowering people leads to relevant, meaningful learning for all – just like my four year old remembers all about the rocks that fascinate him so.

There are also times, though, where we see something that not everyone else does. Perhaps we have experience that others don’t. Maybe it’s an area of particular interest or research. Whatever the reason, we know something that others need to know. With that knowing comes a responsibility to share –and sometimes, the responsibility to lead or take control/make decisions. Even if people don’t like it or they fight you –just like my four year old fights to pull his hand out of mine as we cross the street.

This leadership needs to happen with integrity and respect – not from a desire for power or control. Just like I strive to make sure my children feel loved, I need to have a relationship with my team and that sense of trust before people will follow me when I try to lead.

The push and pull of learning – and of life – needs to be a cross between individualized, empowered learning and a benevolent dictatorship with caring, inspiring leaders. I believe that either, in exclusion, is insufficient – it’s the blend of the two that has always been the most powerful