My 13-year-old son Kael was babysitting my 10-year-old son Zeff last week. Upon my return from an appointment, I asked Kael how it went. “Zeff was pretty good, but he disobeyed me.”

After some questioning, I determined that the two boys had been enjoying a snack of Veggie Straws. Kael had jokingly crushed a single Veggie Straw. Zeff then enthusiastically followed suit, pulverizing the remaining 20 Veggie Straws in the Ziploc bag, creating a veggie powder. Kael then commanded him to eat the destroyed Veggie Straws. Zeff not-so-politely demurred and instead threw them away.

Each of my kids knows that when an older sibling is in charge, that sibling speaks with my authority. Disobeying the sibling in authority will have consequences with me. Of course the babysitting sibling is accountable to me for his (or her) leadership, too.

Once Zeff was out of earshot, I talked with Kael about how he handled the situation. After a couple of minutes of back and forth, I asked him what lessons he took from this episode. He said, “I should not be a hypocrite, and when someone doesn’t want to follow my command, I should ask why.”

I thought that was good advice.

It also strikes me that Zeff’s reaction to his brother’s authority looks a lot like my reaction to authority when I’m out of alignment. I can be a petulant punk, and I don’t want to face the music.

Lessons for your next (snacking) crisis:

  1. Lead by example.
  2. When you face resistance, dig deeper to understand the root issues.
  3. Even when we disagree, we are obligated to submit to authority, or face the consequences.

Are there any other lessons I should be taking away?

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  1. I am ok with trying to lead by example, but then I forget to try to understand the root issues that caused the resistance. When I was a Navy officer, I was comfortable with just giving out directions (commands) and realizing the men would follow them or suffer the consequences already established by Navy regulations etc.
    Trying to understand root issues or causes is very difficult for me. Normally I follow Kael’s plan of attack. As an engineer I want to get to the bottom line solution immediately. That is not my recommended way. My life’s experience tells me that your plan is better.
    I will try to be better. Thanks son. Love, Dad

  2. As the son of a pastor, I love parables. Though, this anecdotal story isn’t exactly parabolic, it got me to look inward at lessons in life (personal and professional) that I may have missed, which all good parables do. As a father, I commonly take the “do as I say…because I’m your father” approach. Which is the same as saying “I don’t need to explain myself to you”…but if I did…could I? Just because you don’t HAVE to explain yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to. I encourage my kids (and colleagues) to voice opinion, be heard, stand your ground, make your point…but be ready for someone not to like it. And be accepting of defeat. In the end, regardless of outcome, be able to look at yourself in the mirror. I try to lead by example, and, when I do, I get a tingle in my occipital from the times I watched my father lead by the example his father set, which he learned from his father…and so on. Leadership isn’t about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in your charge.

    • Chip Neidigh (Author)

      Your last sentence especially resonates with me, Mark. Even though I know it to be true, I surprise myself with how self-absorbed I can be as a leader, consultant, father, husband, friend, etc.

  3. My first thought was “He is doing a superb job of teaching his children to be good leaders!

  4. My favorite kind of lesson. Real-life. Thanks for sharing!

  5. “….when someone doesn’t want to follow my command, I should ask why.” From the mouths of babes!