This is the second in a three-part series. If you would like to read part 1 you can find it here.
“I’m going to break you into three groups,” I say to the class of 25 fifth graders. “Each group is going to take one leader type and write as many descriptive words or phrases about them on post-its, as they can.”
Now that the children understood there was more than one way to be a leader, it was time to get these kids to think critically about each of the three leadership styles we had been studying (Handshake, Conductor, and Warrior). I wanted them to understand each can be an equally effective leader. Hopefully, they would recognize themselves in one or all of the different leader types.
I pass out several post-its to each child.
The groups work quietly as individuals and then slowly start to buzz as they debate overlaps or word choice.
“Is “off-kilter” a word?”, a little voice asks. “I thought I read it in a book somewhere and I think…if it IS a word…it makes sense to use it here.” She was in the Conductor group.
I start to relax. I’m pretty confident that the Warrior team will find it easy to come up with leadership attributes, the Conductor will be moderately hard and the Handshake the most difficult.
So, I head over to the Handshake group in case they need assistance.
Here is the Handshake attribute list the kids generated:
Did a kid just write down the word “Legacy”?
Realizing that this group clearly doesn’t need my help, I move to the conductor group.
Conductor Post-it List
￼I back away, impressed.
The little warriors in the Warrior group are waring.
“We don’t really like him much,” one whispers to me as I try to facilitate a cease-fire. The problem is that some of the kids see the Warrior more literally than symbolically. I doubt some adults could avoid this trap. We’ve all worked for a Warrior at some point, haven’t we?
I tell each group to elect a single spokesperson.
All hell breaks loose.
Rock-Paper-Scissors, Eenie Meenie Minie Moe, raised hands, “elect me” speeches are all employed.
“One minute left!”
I suddenly see little Conductors, Handshakes, and Warriors in action all around me...all trying to get their groups to reach a conclusion. It’s as if the post-it notes had come to life.
The dust settles, and I have three keen spokespeople…with their groups quietly grumbling about the lack of democracy.
“Let’s go from group to group and have each spokesperson read one of your teams’ attributes or phrases. We are going to be looking for similarities and differences in leadership styles.”
25 spokespeople contribute to this process instead of the desired three.
25 spokespeople start to realize that although these symbols have different styles, they also share much more similar qualities. The same traits come up as we go from group to group- like alliances, being firm and strong, and helping your team. This is not lost on the kids even if they are only 11-year-olds. They are starting to realize that all these leaders can lead well even if they are different.
25 spokespeople also start to realize that they like some of these leaders better than others. That they see themselves in some or all of these leaders.
That there is a real difference of opinion.
Even though I initially embarked on this workshop to help these kids learn they can be a leader no matter what their style, they, in turn, are helping me to realize some of my own insights:
-Not understanding or recognizing the breadth of leader styles can cause a lot of workplace strife.
-It’s pretty clear why some people love their boss or peer while others fail to connect with the very same person.
“Now let’s all come together on the carpet in a circle. I want to tell you a story, but first, you need to understand the difference between leader and leadership. A leader is a person and leadership is a process.
“I love stories!!!!”, a little boy yells out.
“So do I,” I smile.