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The gingerbread house experiment

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Craig Johnson
  • 375th Civil Engineer Squadron Commander
The first job of a leader is to build more leaders. To Live. Learn. Pass it on. These are just a few sayings that highlight the importance of each of our roles as leaders. All people do it. Certainly at different levels, but all people do it. Nowhere is it more prevalent in my mind than in the home. Ahhh, the parent-child relationship. Build a wonderful home environment where children can learn and become responsible and independent so that one day they leave the home ready to take on life's challenges. Like you and I did. If only it were that easy.

My kids are not very old yet. My wife and I have three boys: Matt, 8, Nate, 7, and Mikey, 4. I figured it's never too early to start building those leaders of tomorrow so I decided to try a little experiment last December around the holidays. During one of those long days of being cold outside and the kids saying "there's nothing to do," I pulled out the do-it-yourself gingerbread house for a little father- sons bonding time.

"Hey boys, you want to build the gingerbread house?" I asked. "Yeah!" They replied. Game on.

My experiment was to have them each play a role in building it. Matt, was the oldest and the best reader, he was the leader. He had the job of setting the "vision," including showing pictures of the house and reading the instructions to the other boys, but he could not build anything. Nate, the next oldest, was good at putting things together so he was in charge of interpreting the "vision" and constructing the house. He could look at the picture on the box but not read the instructions. That left Mikey; shape recognition was his specialty so I put him in charge of supplies. You can probably imagine how this went.

Things were smooth at first as I set each boy up with supplies, a construction site, and instructions. Matt read the instructions, Nate put the first piece in place that supply boy Mikey handed him. Smooth. Piece of cake. It was a slippery slope from there as the tasks became more complex.

Matt knew what he wanted to build, but had trouble turning his "vision" into actionable steps that Nate could understand. So Nate started making up his own way to put the gingerbread house together which only made Matt more frustrated and directive of his "employee."

And Mikey--he just ate the supply materials. Decorative siding (gumdrops) and cement (icing) down the hatch. Mmmmmm. But that made Nate angry as he yelled at the supply boy for not getting him what he needed so he could do his job.

The gingerbread house turned out to be more of a lean-to with icing globbed on top and a couple of randomly placed gumdrops. The whole thing culminated with me explaining to Matt that leadership is not easy--it requires vision, patience, mentoring, persistence. He didn't buy it.

"Dad, I don't like my job!" And off he went to play the Wii. I was laughing so hard my belly was shaking like Santa's might.

So much for my experiment.

So why tell this story? Because it reminded me that leadership is like that. Not the belly shaking thing. The vision, patience, mentoring, persistence part: working with the people you lead, understanding their skills ,and the crucial role they play in team success. It also reminded me that leadership takes time, practice and effort.

As our wing commander, Colonel Hornitschek, has stated so many times, Scott is Leadership University. We learn of leadership and then apply it. Go learn more leadership and apply. Repeat cycle.

Every day, each of us in our own worlds has a chance to lead in our job and home life, communicating our vision, and all the while building those folks who will one day replace us, in our professional and personal lives.

I'll keep working on my boys. It's a life long journey for me. For them. For all of us. The first job of a leader is to build more leaders. To live. Learn. Pass it on.