Reflections on patient leadership through homeschooling

Leah Andrew
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Reflections on patient leadership

When schools across Canada closed their doors in March, parents suddenly found themselves adding the job of teacher to their portfolio.  If you are among those parents who were  homeschooling children during the pandemic, I bet you have a thing or two to say about patience.

As a mom to three kids under 9 (aged 8, 6 and 3), I can certainly say that my patience has been tested during this time. Now that the kids are back in school (fingers crossed it lasts), I have a bit more time to myself.  This includes time to think (gasp)!  And so, I found myself reflecting on how homeschooling has actually improved my patience. These reflections can also be applied to workplace situations.  After all, at the end of the day this is really about patient leadership. Whether it’s at home or at the office. And, as many organizations focus on change and transformation amid these uncertain times, skills in patient leadership will be in demand.

Reflection #1: It’s actually about you

I once heard Hal Runkel give a talk about more patient parenting and one line really struck me. He said, being a more patient parent is actually about being in control of YOUR reactions and YOUR emotions, not theirs.

For example, let’s say your 6 year old son doesn’t want to practice his piano. (This is a daily battle in our house.) He especially doesn’t want to do his virtual lesson with his teacher. So, what does he do?  Drags his feet. Sulks.  Eventually, he makes it to the piano bench but only after several, varying approaches by a mother with an increasingly shorter hold on her patience. How was this about me? Well, after some reflection, I realized that I was embarrassed that he wouldn’t do his lesson when the teacher was ready for him. I felt it reflected poorly on me. That’s why I couldn’t keep my cool. He, on the other hand, just needed a little more time to make the switch from whatever he was working on to the piano lesson.

Once I learned to control my reaction to his unwillingness to do the lesson, and offer up the natural consequences in a non-confrontational way, lessons became much better for me and him.

Being able to control your emotions holds true in the workplace as well.

In this situation, becoming a more patient leader means trying to be aware of the baggage you bring to every conversation. Instead of taking it personally, strive to bring a spirit of openness, collaboration and positivity.

Reflection #2: Make the effort to make the connection

Focus. Listen. Be present. As parents and leaders we’ve heard this time and time again. Yet no matter how many times we’re reminded of this, it is still SO HARD to follow through.

During homeschooling, I was often trying to work nearby while the kids were doing their schoolwork.  I thought this made me available if/when they needed it. But, when they did need me, it was hard for me to switch gears, be present and explain the concept of arrays (just a random example). I found myself getting frustrated (see reflection #1).  Of course, my daughter responded to that frustration and everything went downhill from there. However, once we agreed that morning was academic time, that I would be physically beside her (not just nearby), and that afternoon was free time, things went a lot smoother. I was able to be present, and together we tackled grade 3 math.

Patient leadership is about striving for both the physical and the emotional connection.

I recognize physical connection is not the same in a virtual setting. But, how can we bring more of both these kinds of connection to our encounters with colleagues and clients? Because, once that connection is established, you have the context and empathy to be a stronger supporter and a more patient leader.

Reflection #3: Choose what to let ride

In other words, this is about keeping the big picture close at hand. I know this can be difficult, especially with the daily barrage of increasing Covid cases and the worry that we will return to homeschooling. But, in the spirit of patient leadership, keeping an eye on the big picture helps to determine how to react. Is this a serious strategic decision? Or, can you let it go a day, a week or a month and see how it plays out?

Keeping an eye on the big picture has been a challenge for me. During homeschooling my house was SO messy!  (For me this is a huge source of “visual” stress.) It made me grumpy. I snapped at the kids. And, even when they did manage to clean up one thing (which is no small miracle), they quickly turn their attention to something else. I had many parents tell me that I needed to let this go and just let the house be messy. 

Believe me, I have tried.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. However, even as I write this, this concept remains difficult for me. I’m literally staring at a sea of dinosaurs, lego and magnatiles on my floor.  I know the moment I get up from writing, I will inevitably step on the stray lego block,  and do a fancy jig to narrowly escape from a twisted ankle. (I guess that’s why they make those lego slippers.)

Patient leadership is a journey

All of these reflections are works in progress for me, as a parent AND as a leader. So, it goes without saying that some days are definitely better than others!

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